Bezaleel Herold Griffith, M.D.
1925 - 2016
"Hal", if you were addressing Bezaleel Herold Griffith or more often ' Grif' if you were speaking about him, was born in Brooklyn, NY on August 24, 1925 and died at home in Evanston, Illinois, 91 years later on October 30, 2016. His schooling in Hackensack New Jersey had an early completion when he joined the Naval Reserve Officer’s Training Corps in 1941 mid-way through his High School senior year, and this enabled ’Grif’ to attend Johns Hopkins University. Grif finished Hopkins in two years and then attended Yale School of Medicine. While it took him only 64 months to complete all of his training, Johns Hopkins took another 45 years when in 1992 Grif was asked to attend a special graduation ceremony to formally receive his undergraduate degree. There was a tremendous sense of urgency with the War and Grif’s degrees were rushed and forgotten. For his part of the War effort ‘Grif’ volunteered for the Submarine force, a branch of the military with one of the highest casualty rates of 27%, completing his active service in 1952 as a naval surgeon at the New London, Connecticut Submarine Base. With an interest in Plastic Surgery 'Grif' furthered his training at The New York Hospital both in research and residency. Some of his fellow residents in Dr. Herbert Conway's program at Cornell at the time were Joseph Murray, Harry Buncke, and Tom Rees.
In 1957, Northwestern recruited Grif to develop Plastic Surgery at the Chicago Wesley Memorial Hospital, one of two principal Northwestern- affiliated hospitals. When Wesley and Passavant Hospitals merged, John Beal, Chairman of the Department of Surgery [also from The New York Hospital], appointed Dr. Griffith as the first Head of the Division of Plastic Surgery at Northwestern in 1970, a post ' Grif' held for 21 years, and then some. Grif recruited Peter McKinney in 1967 and together they built a core faculty that included Norm Hugo, Desmond Kernahan, Bruce Bauer, Victor Lewis, Frank Pirruccello , Martin Sullivan, John Smith, Mitch Grasseschi, John Bell, William Stromberg, Gerald Harris, Daniel Nagle among others. With a strong faculty that covered every component of plastic surgery, 88 residents were trained during his tenure. Many of the residents went on to lead other programs in the United States and in other countries. For his entire life, Grif remained in touch with his colleagues and those he trained.
His residents fondly remember him for his phenomenal memory of history and the battles fought on many a patient drapes. Grif would ask the residents to draw local flaps, and then the topography would change to the lines drawn on the morning of the third day of Battle of Gettysburg or transformed to the beaches of Normandy and how Eisenhower had tactically planned the invasion. With such war stories, Gillies, McIndoe, Kazanjian and others would play a prominent role in the resident on the field training. Finally there was Hal’s tenor like sonorous voice. His rendition of the songs of the Civil War, the World Wars and sea shanties would not only deepen the sedation of patients but many a residents also fell under the spell of his voice.
And those whose education was lacking, he would introduce great classics like Melville’s Moby Dick. Discussion in the operating room, the clinic wards and conferences covered the range of human experience. He would from time to time invite the residents to join him at the Chicago Lyric Opera. To be a Northwestern plastic surgery resident was to be not only to be a skilled surgeon but in Grif’s ideals a well-rounded physician and generous human being. He was generous to all he knew. He shared his lunch that his wife, Jeanne, had made with the residents, and when residents had no place to go home for the holidays, Grif and his family welcomed them to their home. Once entered in his black voluminous address book you would always be part of his family. He was generous to the menagerie of pets from a blind parrot to the raccoons with which he and Jeanne shared their food and warmth.
Grif was accomplished in the entire scope of Plastic surgery and enjoyed doing it all. He was variously Chairman of the Plastic Surgery Research Council, Chair of the American Board of Plastic Surgery and Secretary of the Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Grif turned a year-long sabbatical for personal illness into a productive year by publishing a landmark paper in 1956 on the reconstruction of pressure sores for paraplegic patients. This interest set the stage for the future close relationship of Northwestern University with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago that has ranked number one in the country for more than a quarter of a century. He had the usual stream of academic publications but among them was one that included Lord Kelvin and the last manuscript that he was working on was on Abe Lincoln.
His outside interests were mainly his patients and students/residents to whom he was fiercely loyal. He was diffidently 'old school' in being 'first in, last out' at the hospital, as he was uncommonly found at home. Being a true gentleman he almost never spoke ill of others. Once retired, Hal was seen with head phones learning German and started swimming lessons with aqua physical therapy. Hal who was in the Navy and loved the sea finally found time to master the water.
Dr. Griffith continued a romance with Jeanne that lasted 65 years and raised two daughters, Susan Ritter of Virginia and Tristan Boyde of Dresden ,Germany/Evanston. He and Jeanne shared a passion for Nantucket where they maintained a summer home. Plastic surgery has lost "Grif". We have lost "Hal".
Peter McKinney, M.D.
Pravin K. Patel, M.D.