James E. Bennett, M.D.
1925 - 2018
At the age of 93, the long life of service to medicine and the community of Dr. James E. Bennett ended, after a brief illness, on June 21, 2018 in his home of Monrovia, Indiana. He was born in Burlington, Wisconsin to Florence and Dr. John F. Bennett, whom he later described as “a general practitioner – general surgeon of finely honed skills, considerable compassion and quintessential integrity”. He attended Notre Dame University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Northwestern University School of Medicine. After his internship at the University of Michigan, he practiced with his father for a short time before being called to service in the United States Navy, where he served as a ship’s Medical Officer. After having finished his military service, Dr. Bennett completed a residency in General Surgery under Dr. Frederick Coller, whom he considered his second mentor (after his father) in surgery. During residency, Jim met and married Ellen “Scotty” MacPherson. Following his surgical residency, the couple moved to Galveston, Texas, where Dr. Bennett completed a Plastic Surgery residency under Dr. Truman G. Blocker, whom he credited with inspiring an interest in major reconstructive surgeries and burn care. The Bennetts also spent a year in Great Britain at the Plastic Surgery Center for Wales, studying under Dr. Emlyn Lewis.
In 1961, at the age of 36, Dr. James Bennett became the first full-time Director of the Division of Plastic Surgery at the Ohio State School of Medicine. Soon after, in 1964, he was recruited to Indiana University School of Medicine as Professor of Surgery and only the second Director of the Division of Plastic Surgery, succeeding Dr. Harold Trusler, who served from 1947 to 1964. At Indiana University, Dr. Bennett was an active and passionate teacher of residents and medical students espousing his maxim of “Doctors first, surgeons second, and plastic surgeons third”. He recruited an excellent faculty and was able to engage a number of skilled community plastic surgeons to provide an outstanding teaching environment to the sixty (60) residents who passed through under his leadership. He enlarged upon Dr. Trusler’s interest in cleft palate and burns to create a world-renowned craniofacial unit. He founded the Riley Burn Unit in 1973 and, subsequently, the adult burn unit at Wishard Hospital both of which have continued to provide multi-disciplinary care to children and adults and have become accredited Burn Centers by the ACS/ABA accreditation committee. Dr. Bennett also emphasized major reconstructive procedures and hand surgery. Among his sixty trainees were four who became a Chief or Chairman of Plastic Surgery and thirteen who joined University faculties.
James E. Bennett served Indiana University School of Medicine in many ways, other than training residents. He believed that academic medicine should be practiced predominately within the confines and embracing the responsibilities of the Academic Medical Center. He served on the decision making body for the Department of Surgery, the Surgical Council. He chaired several important Departmental Search Committees that successfully recruited prominent Chairmen of Ophthalmology and Radiation Therapy. He also served on the Board of Trustees of Marion County’s Wishard Memorial Hospital. The power, prominence, and independence that his efforts brought to plastic surgery greatly helped me steer the Division through the transition from traditional academic surgery to the oppressive bureaucracy of the modern medical center without losing the ability to educate medical students and residents. Dr. Bennett was honored with the Glenn W. Irwin Award for Distinguished Faculty Service by Indiana University. Upon his retirement, his grateful residents established the James E. Bennett Surgical Society and the James E. Bennett Chair in Surgery, which I had the privilege of occupying for most of my years at Indiana University.
Outside of Indiana University, Dr. Bennett served the entire body of Academic Surgery. He was Vice President of the American College of Surgeons and Chairman of the American Board of Plastic Surgery and he sat on the Residency Review Committee for Plastic Surgery. In his 1984 Presidential Address to the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, he identified the major problems facing plastic surgery as:
- We have too many suboptimal residency training programs.
- We have a dearth of blue chip applicants for residencies.
- Academic plastic surgery is underpopulated.
Dr. Bennett worked hard to rectify these problems. He established a protointegrated training program that allowed him to match medical students and influence their first three year of training, which eventually led to an RRC-approved integrated residency at Indiana University. In writings, speeches and editorials, he was prescient in identifying problems that impaired academic surgery: low wages, inadequate faculty members, excessive specialization of practice, and refusal to engage in emergency/critical care. He remained interested and active in Academia after retirement, attending national meetings of AAPS and ASA, and visiting professorships at Indiana University.
Dr. Bennett’s life outside of medicine was similarly enthusiastic and active. Both he and Scotty were passionate supporters of Republican Party in Indiana, particularly during the tenure of Mayor William Hudnut, Senator Richard Lugar, and Governors Otis Bowen and Robert Orr, all of whom were instrumental in making Indiana one of the few states that have taken a reasonable approach to tort reform, thus improving the environment of medical practice.
Dr. Jim Bennett’s other passion was the racing and breeding of the American Standard Thoroughbred Horse. He founded Benaire Farms in Monrovia and, after retirement, made his home there. Dr. Bennett, known as “Doc” in the horse world, was instrumental in introducing parimutual racing to Indiana where it continues to thrive. He won breeding trophies in 2000 and 2001 with his sire, Raven’s Arrow, and his finest brood mare, Crunchess, was inducted into the Indiana Standard Bred Hall of Fame in 2014.
Jim Bennett was a family man and, although his beloved wife, Scotty, died long before him, he remained the center of his family for his children, David, Tom, Jon and Missy, and his six grandchildren.
Those who knew Jim Bennett described him as ‘reserved in speech, but active and forceful in action’, ‘a strong advocate of Academic Surgery’ and ‘a generous contributor of time, talent, and treasure to community and family’. His long life was well lived.
John Joseph Coleman III, MD