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William W. Shaw, M.D.
1942 - 2010

Dr. William Shaw was born in China in 1942. His family first emigrated to Taiwan and then to the United States where his father joined the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles. After completing high school in Los Angeles, Bill received his undergraduate degree from UCLA in 1964. He then continued his medical studies at the same institution from which he graduated in 1968 with his Doctor of Medicine as well as the distinction of being Class President.

After a medical internship at the Albert Einstein Medical Center, Bill returned to UCLA to complete a general surgery residency under Dr. William P. Longmire. His residency, though, was interrupted for two years of military service in Thailand.

In 1975, Dr. Shaw returned to New York to begin a plastic surgery residency under Dr. John M. Converse at the Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery at New York University.

I first met Bill shortly after he arrived at the Institute as an incoming plastic surgery resident. I was the most junior member of the Institute faculty at that time, consequently spending considerable time at Bellevue Hospital. I quickly recognized Bill for his unique talents. He was bright, analytic, indefatigable and “cool under fire.” He was skilled at problem solving, and was especially intrigued by surgical challenges, none of which in his mind seemed beyond solution. He combined all of this with a dedication to teaching. We easily bonded.

In 1977, John Converse and I enthusiastically appointed him to the faculty as Chief of the Plastic Surgery service at Bellevue Hospital. Immediately after his appointment, the clinical activity on the service increased dramatically, mainly because Bill literally lived at Bellevue. He blended night into day. I remember early one morning talking to him as he was sitting on a gurney eating an ice cream cone just retrieved from the dispensing machine. Having worked all night on a lower extremity replantation, he was about to embark on an all-day microvascular free flap and yet showed no signs of fatigue.

At that time, we were both young, and our relationship was truly complementary and supportive. My interest was in craniofacial surgery and his was in microsurgery. I recall flying to Los Angeles once for a meeting with Bill. During the flight, we formulated a nasal reconstructive flap based on the supratrochlear vessels and incorporating the outer table of the frontal bone. On our return to New York, we enthusiastically performed the procedure. However, it resulted in a marble-like nose, a procedure never to be repeated!

As I look back, I treasure the 10 years we worked together - years that were some of the happiest of my entire professional life. Although we could disagree conceptually, we never had an argument. Most decisions were made in the best interests of the residency and fellowship training programs. However, there were moments when Bill could become extremely quiet and almost impenetrable. The Asian ascetic side could be balanced, however, by the Southern California spirit shaped during his formative years on the West Coast. I remember a meeting in Las Vegas when we rented a boat on Lake Mead and took the residents waterskiing. The California beach boy side of him was so apparent.

I hated to see Bill leave the New York University Plastic Surgery faculty, but I recognized and supported his desire to become his own Chief. In 1989, he was recruited as Chief of Plastic Surgery at UCLA. With enthusiasm and commitment, he embarked to create a unique teaching service and an internationally renowned microsurgery referral center. The years at UCLA were not always happy ones for Bill, and his health suffered. He died in London in 2010 after a long and protracted illness.

I miss my friend and colleague and often think about him. However, I am filled with such warm memories of the time we spent together as young surgeons in New York, and I know these are sentiments that are shared by so many members of the American and international plastic surgery community. His contributions to plastic surgery are enormous, and his commitment to resident and fellow training was without peer. His life was cut far too short.

Adapted in part from Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: 131:270, 2013.

Joseph G. McCarthy, M.D.

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