Fifty years ago, Mayo Clinic, the city of Rochester, and the world suffered a terrible loss when Charles W. Mayo, M.D., died in a car accident near the family’s Mayowood estate in Rochester on his 70th birthday. "Dr. Chuck," as he liked to be called, was the son of Charles H. Mayo, M.D., and Edith Mayo, and grandson of Dr. William W. Mayo.
And while his grandfather, father, and uncle garner most of the attention surrounding the history of Mayo Clinic, the Rochester Post-Bulletin& reports that Dr. Chuck was every bit the surgeon, humanitarian, and person they were, while carving his own path.
Dr. Chuck was named a consultant surgeon at Mayo Clinic in 1931 and a professor of surgery in 1947. The paper reports that he was "widely respected as an expert in the field of abdominal and colonic surgery." When he wasn't seeing patients, he served on the Mayo Clinic Board of Governors and "carried on the family leadership at the clinic until his retirement in 1964."
But it was Dr. Chuck's "taste for adventure and globe-spanning interests" that set him apart from the rest of his famous family, the paper reports. During World War II, he "commanded a Mayo medical unit in New Guinea." In the 1950s, he edited a medical journal called Postgraduate Medicine, which the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England called "the finest medical publication" in the United States. He also served on the University of Minnesota's Board of Regents.
More than that, however, was the fact that Dr. Chuck "regarded himself as a citizen of the world." Others did, too. As the Post-Bulletin reports, during the "early, idealistic years of the United Nations," President Dwight D. Eisenhower named Dr. Chuck "a delegate to the World Health Organization and president of the American Association for the United Nations." That role would lead to him serving as an "informal U.S. ambassador" to "Nepal, Japan, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe during the Cold War and beyond."
For all of his intellect and accomplishments, it was Dr. Chuck's humble and gregarious personality that drew others to him. He made a lasting impression on those lucky enough to work alongside him at Mayo Clinic. Like retired surgical technician Elaine Stewart, who writes in a 2014 Mayo Clinic Health System story that she'll always treasure her many pre-op conversations with Dr. Chuck. "He always showed an interest in what I was doing and what my aspirations were," she writes.
But what she'll remember most is Dr. Chuck's respect and compassion for his patients. "I clearly remember one of those times because it defined him as the compassionate man he was," Stewart writes. "A woman was brought into the operating room to have her surgery when Dr. Mayo was present. The woman looked up at him with her sad eyes and said, 'I don't know how this will turn out, but I want you to know I don't have anyone in this world.' Dr. Mayo looked kindly at her and said, 'You have me.' Just three little words, but we could tell how comforting those words were to her as she smiled and closed her eyes."
All of this, of course, is not news to Lilli (Mayo) Weivoda, Dr. Chuck's granddaughter and administrator of Mayo Clinic's Practice Administration Shared Services in Rochester. "He was a great man and a very funny and loving grandfather," she tells us. "He loved his family, and his house was always full of family and others who needed a bit of help or kindness. He's the person I try to honor with my own work at Mayo Clinic."
This story was originally published in Mayo Clinic "In the Loop."