RICHARD BOIES STARK, M.D.
1915 - 2007
Dr. Richard Boies Stark, one of New York City’s pre-eminent surgeons, died on January 25th. at his home in Stuart, Florida. To paraphrase Tom Brokaw, Dr. Stark was one of the last of the “greatest generation”, those plastic surgeons who learned and developed their skills in the military hospitals of World War II.
Born in 1915 in Conrad, Iowa, Richard Stark attended Stanford University, where he was head cheerleader for the winning Rose Bowl team of 1935. After graduation in 1936, he was torn between careers in surgery or art, and traveled to Heidelberg to spend a year in art school before entering Stanford Medical School. He interned at Boston Childrens Hospital, and his residency at the Peter Bent Brigham was interrupted by the Second World War.
He returned from the European theater with a bronze star, and completed his training in general and plastic surgery at the New York Hospital. Joining his chief Dr. Herbert Conway in practice, he was appointed to the faculty of Cornell University, but left in 1955 to develop a plastic surgery training program at St. Luke’s Hospital in the same city.
His subsequent career was filled with honors, serving as president both of the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. He was the founding editor of the Annals of Plastic Surgery, and one of the co-founders of the Plastic Surgery Research Council.
His book, co-authored with Dr. Conway, “100 Years of Plastic Surgery at New York Hospital” was to be the first of many. “Plastic Surgery” and “Cleft Palate, a Multi-disciplinary Approach” were followed by a two-volume “Plastic Surgery of the Head and Neck”, as well as several others. His bibliography was extensive, reflecting his interests in both clinical surgery as well as more basic research.
He was very active internationally, and his operating theater was frequently attended by visiting surgeons from overseas, to whom he was always unfailingly courteous. He was deeply involved in supporting plastic surgery in Vietnam during the war, making frequent extended visits to the Cho Ray Hospital in Saigon where he was influential in setting up a training program, many of whose graduates are still practicing a very high level of plastic surgery in that country.
He married Judy Thornton Stark in 1967, and took a somewhat reluctant bride to Saigon for their honeymoon at the height of the Tet offensive. This episode was wittily recounted in Judy’s book “Tete-a-Tet”, published quite recently.
A meticulous and creative surgeon, he insisted on the highest standards in his residents; but was also, unusual for a chief in that era, a kind and encouraging mentor who became a friend and supporter to his trainees throughout their careers.
To illustrate this, I would like to recount a personal experience. On commencing my residency in New York, I arrived in mid-summer with a pregnant wife and a one-year old to move into a rather shabby apartment on Riverside Drive. To our huge surprise, Dr. and Mrs. Stark had persuaded the “super” to let them in, had aired out the apartment and left baby food and a steak in the refrigerator. There was a bottle on the hall table, with a note saying, “Welcome to New York – don’t come in ‘till Sunday”!
Upon retirement in 1985, he resumed his artistic career full time. His beautifully meticulous watercolors were shown and sold in galleries in both New York and Florida, and in addition he had a one-man show at the Century Club in New York City, a tribute to his reputation in his second career. He will be remembered fondly by all whose lives he touched.
R. Chris Weatherly-White, MD