Hale R. Tolleth, M.D.
1930 - 2017
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to memorialize my friend and colleague, Hale Tolleth.
Hale was born in Chicago, but soon after, his family relocated to Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, where he grew up enjoying the lakes and rivers of his new found home. In his teens, the family again relocated to Los Angeles, California for his high school days. That provided his introduction and interest in attending the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB).
After graduating from the UCSB in 1952, he graduated from the University of Southern California Medical School in 1957, interned at Los Angeles County Hospital in 1958, had a surgical residency from 1958-62, and completed an outstanding residency in Plastic Surgery at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco, California in 1964. His mentors at St. Francis included giants of plastic surgery such as Gerald Brown O’Conner, Mar McGregor and Mark Gorney. He formed a life-long admiration for Mark as his resident and Hale frequently quoted Sir Isaac Newton saying, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” He then completed a one-year fellowship in Africa as part of a Mobile Surgical Team in 1965. The year in Africa allowed him to focus on reconstructive surgery which served as a foundation for his future years of medical mission trips to locations that included Africa, Columbia, Honduras and the Philippines. His work on these mission trips with cleft lip repairs was life-changing for him.
Having completed his training, Hale moved to Concord, California in 1965, and started a private practice at John Muir Medical Center. It was a broad based practice of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery that continued for 37 years.
Hale taught “Sculpture for the Plastic Surgeon” for more than 40 years at the annual meeting of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) which was historically the society’s longest running course. He often offered the course in other venues such as at the Stanford Division of Plastic Surgery. It was at one of these courses, while I was a resident that I first learned from Hale and appreciated his talent as an artist and teacher. He often said, “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” He was well-known in his sculpture classes for a very firm but fair style of teaching; if his directions weren’t followed the sculpture that was being crafted may have been destroyed, much to the distress of his plastic surgeon student.
Dr. Tolleth had a major impact on the Plastic Surgery Education Foundation (PSEF) now the PSF. He served as PSEF President from 1981-82. He was selected as a Visiting Professor of PSEF eleven times. He was truly instrumental in the early work of promoting international mission trips with volunteers. He dedicated his time serving native populations on these trips. His work and skill not only corrected the cleft lips and palates in these locations, but educated many plastic surgeons to improve the lives of people in developing nations.
He also served as President of the California Society of Plastic Surgeons (CSPS) from 1990-91. His designs for its logo and Presidential Medal are still used today. His drawings, used for their meeting book covers, are classic Hale Tolleth. In 1993, the CSPS honored him for 20 years of service and for his artistic contributions.
Dr. Tolleth’s contributions to humanity and the specialty of plastic surgery were recognized over the years in many ways, both by honors and awards. He was named Man of the Year by the Mount Diablo Foundation in 1966; awarded the Certificate of Appreciation from the American Speech and Hearing Association in 1975; presented with the Golden Sword Award from the American Cancer Society in 1977; the Alumni Award for Outstanding Achievement from the University of California at Santa Barbara was bestowed in 1978. He was elected to membership in the American Association of Plastic Surgeons in 1978. For nine years he served as a Guest Examiner for the American Board of Plastic Surgery. In 2010, at the annual meeting in Toronto, he received the ASPS President’s Award.
Dr. Tolleth’s patient care philosophy, in private practice and internationally, was that patients are individuals who are often suffering, fearful and in need of treatment as well as comfort and reassurance. Time and again he said to his long time associate in practice, Eric Mariotti, MD “always do the right thing.” He took time to conduct five book reviews, publish twenty-five plastic surgery articles and produce eight medical movies. His productions included, “PLASTIKOS: A History of Plastic Surgery.”
Hale’s relaxation hours during his busy life were very diverse. He maintained his roots in Wisconsin Dells in Wisconsin’s heartland, well known as the “Water Park Capital of the World.” The Wisconsin River runs by his uncle’s house, which he kept, and added a carriage house for the classic horse-drawn carriage he had restored. He spent eleven years as an active glider pilot. His collection of grinding stones from the California Native American Miwok Indians, was well known. He also collected many Pre-Columbian Art pieces during his frequent trips abroad. He was an extremely talented and gifted sculptor, creating beautiful wooden carousel horses along with interesting metal works of art.
When I reminisce about times with Dr. Tolleth, I am reminded of Sir Isaac’s Newton’s wise saying, “Genius is patience”. On the other hand, his daughter, Kerry Wynn, describes him appropriately…. “he had no filters-he told you exactly what was on his mind.”
Upon his retirement from plastic surgery practice, he relocated to Brentwood, California, where he remained active while still making frequent trips to Wisconsin. On November 12, 2017, his Celebration of Life was held where he lived, at the Club Los Meganos at the Trilogy in the Vineyards, Brentwood, California. It was well attended by his family, colleagues and friends. He is survived by Alice, his wife of 31 years; his daughter Kerry Wynn; his son Hale Tolleth III; five grandchildren and one great-grand child.
Hale left his mark as a humanitarian who contributed so much to plastic surgery and those we serve. He will be sorely missed and well-remembered.
Ronald E. Iverson, MD