Frank T. Padberg, Sr., MD, FACS: ACS department director, DSA recipient, and trailblazer in neurosurgery

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Dr. Padberg in 1977.

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Dr. Padberg with his ACS Distinguished Service Award citation, 1988.

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Dr. Padberg (left) with his son.

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Dr. Padberg (second from right) at the 2004 dedication of the Frank T. Padberg, MD, FACS, Conference Room at the College’s headquarters in Chicago, with (from left) Mrs. Padberg; former ACS Director and then-ACS Executive Consultant C. Rollins Hanlon, MD, FACS; and then-ACS Executive Director Thomas R. Russell, MD, FACS.

Frank T. Padberg, Sr., MD, FACS, passed away peacefully, April 5, at age 96, surrounded by his immediate family. Dr. Padberg was the Director of Fellowship and Graduate Medical Education at the American College of Surgeons (ACS) for more than a quarter of a century and a recipient of the College’s Distinguished Service Award.

Passion for surgery and song

He was born in March 1918, in Canton, OK, to Albert F. Padberg, MD, the town’s general practitioner, and Mayme Padberg, a local schoolteacher. After graduating from Canton High School, he attended Wentworth Military Academy and College, Lexington, MO. A professionally trained baritone, he performed as a soloist during these years and considered a career in music.

As the 1937 honor graduate from Wentworth, he was eligible for appointment to West Point but elected to pursue a medical degree at Northwestern University, Chicago, IL. He excelled at this institution and was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha, the academic medical honor society. He graduated from Northwestern in 1943 and was selected for an internship at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. That same year, on February 6, he married Helen Swan, from southern Oklahoma. My parents celebrated their 71st anniversary this year.

As a Captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps from June 1942 to April 1946, he deployed to Bristol, U.K.; Cherbourg, France; and Liege, Belgium, with the 298th General Hospital. He then returned to Northwestern, where he completed a residency in surgery and neurosurgery training with Loyal Davis, MD, FACS, author of surgical and neurosurgical textbooks and Fellowship of Surgeons: A History of the American College of Surgeon, ACS President in 1962, as well as father of former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

Established neurosurgery program

After completing his training in 1952, Dad moved the family to Little Rock to bring the recently formulated specialty of neurosurgery to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Little Rock Veterans Affairs hospitals, where he achieved the rank of clinical professor. He practiced at Little Rock’s St. Vincent’s Hospital from 1952 to 1973. At this point in his career, he became a Fellow of the ACS and served as President of the Arkansas Chapter. The Arkansas State Nurses Association awarded him honorary recognition in 1969, and he was an active member of Rotary International and The Little Rock Club, which maintains a weekly lunch roundtable for civic leaders.

Dr. and Mrs. Padberg maintained dual residency in Chicago and Little Rock after he accepted the position as Director of Fellowship and Graduate Medical Education (now the Division of Member Services) at the ACS in 1973. He actively visited ACS Chapters and participated in the Committee on Applicants. Around this time, I became a Fellow of the College. Many who participated in these meetings fondly recall Dad’s visits.

He received the ACS Distinguished Service Award, the College’s highest honor, in 1988. “In gratitude for sixteen years of dedicated, vigorous contributions as Director of the Fellowship and Graduate Education Departments, representing this College nationally and internationally in exemplary fashion, the Board is pleased to award its highest honor,” reads the award citation dated October 27, 1988. He retired from the ACS in 1999.

The Surgical Section of the National Medical Association honored him with its distinguished service award that same year. Dad was also a member of other distinguished surgical organizations, including the American Surgical Association, the Southern Surgical Association, the Southern Neurosurgical Society, The American Association of Neurological Surgeons, and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

Devoted to faith and family

As an active member of the Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, Dad served as an elder and was an active participant in the men’s Bible class; in Chicago he served as a deacon in the Fourth Presbyterian Church. At church services, his projected baritone voice supplemented the inspiration inherent in the hymns.

International travel was a frequent diversion, and he managed to visit every continent but Antarctica. As a gift to me for my professional achievements, he asked me to choose a destination; we went behind the Iron Curtain to visit the Soviet Union and other parts of Eastern Europe during the Cold War era. The entire family participated in several reunions with the Familienverband Padberg (the international Padberg family), attending several reunions in St. Louis, MO, as well as Berlin, Cologne, and Padberg, Germany. Dad maintained a relationship with the families in Canton, OK, and was a contributor to the church.

He inspired us with his elegant and distinguished persona. An honest character was coupled with a heart for charity and a gracious generosity to less fortunate associates. He was serious and focused in professional activities but had a lighter side, guaranteed to liven up any gathering. Those of you who asked him, “How are you?” will remember that he was always “medium well.”

Dr. Padberg was predeceased by his older sister Louise Souders, MD, and both parents. In addition to his wife, he is survived by the author and his wife, Sharon; his daughter, Kristen; and his grandson, Frank III. A celebration of his life took place Friday, April 11, at the Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock.

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