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>  News Releases >   2003 >   June

Radford Chapple Tanzer, M.D.,

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 06/16/03 • Contact Roland Adams or Tamara Steinert


Dr. Radford C. Tanzer in 2002 with the gold-headed "Boston Post Cane", traditionally presented to the oldest resident of the Hanover, N.H. area. Tanzer died June 12, 2003 at age 97. He was an internationally renowned pioneer in reconstructive surgery. (Photo by Sharon E. Stys)

Radford Chapple Tanzer, M.D., 97, an internationally renowned pioneer in reconstructive surgery, founding member of the American Board of Plastic Surgery and President of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, died peacefully at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., on June 12, 2003. He was a resident of Hanover, N.H.

The son of a dentist, Dr. Tanzer was born and raised in Little Falls, N.Y. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1925 and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternities. His friend and famous classmate was Ted Geisel - "Dr. Seuss." Tanzer graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1929; did his residency in surgery at Strong Memorial, Rochester, N.Y.; did a year of cancer research at Rockefeller Institute (now Rockefeller University); and had a family practice in Little Falls while serving as associate-in-surgery at Imogene Bassett Hospital in nearby Cooperstown, N.Y. In 1936 he became the first senior fellow in plastic surgery at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City under the direction of Dr. Jerome Webster, a pioneer in the new specialty. Dr. Tanzer then traveled to London to study with another pioneer, Sir Harold Gillies.

Tanzer's great pioneering work was in ear reconstruction. "In 1951 I saw my first microtia patient, a child born with an ear missing. I spent one year just thinking about the problem with paper and pencil. I finally used a 6-stage procedure on the boy, borrowing a flap of skin and bringing it up, with its own blood supply, to make a total construction of an external ear."

Dr. William Morain, editor of The Annals of Plastic Surgery and one of his colleagues at Dartmouth-Hitchock Medical Center, said of Dr. Tanzer, "When Rad presented his paper on the reconstruction of the ear to the Association of Plastic Surgeons, they gave him a standing ovation."

Dr. Tanzer was the 16th physician to join Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital (then in Hanover, N.H., now in Lebanon, N.H.). He became Clinical Professor of Surgery (Plastic) at Dartmouth Medical School.

In World War II, Dr. Tanzer served four years in the Army Medical Corps, establishing two of the 10 reconstructive surgery centers in this country. He retired in 1946 as a Lieutenant Colonel. Returning to Hanover, he became a consultant in plastic surgery for Veterans Affairs Hospitals in New England and New York.

After retirement in 1970, he became Visiting Professor of Surgery at the University of Florida School of Medicine, Gainesville. Dr. Tanzer organized the first symposium on the reconstruction of the outer ear and was the author of 80 professional articles.

Famous for his understatement, Dr. Tanzer described his original and important achievements this way, "I made contributions to the treatment of nerve compression and burn contractures and to the restoration of the absent thumb. Later, I developed a new method of reconstructing the outer ear which was adopted by plastic surgeons here and abroad."

He was a member of the American College of Surgeons, the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, a Distinguished Fellow of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, and the New England Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, of which he was organizer and president. His work on ear reconstruction was honored in 1983 in The Annals of Plastic Surgery, which reprinted his original article on this subject as one of the milestones in plastic surgery. In 1985 he was elected to honorary membership in the Japan Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, and in 1987 was made an honorary fellow of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons.

Dr. Tanzer was a vestryman of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hanover and a director of the United Way of the Upper Valley.

His wife, Velma Maul Tanzer, died in 1990. Five years later he married Sheila Harvey, widow of Professor Lawrence E. Harvey, professor of the French and Italian language and literature at Dartmouth. He is survived by his wife Sheila; three sisters: Caroline Tanzer Murphy of Montpelier, Vt.; Elisabeth Battle of East Dennis, Mass.; Katrina Tanzer Chubbuck of Fairport N.Y.; and eight nieces and nephews. Also four step-children: John Harvey of Warwick, R.I.; Professor Elizabeth Harvey of Toronto, Ontario; Akeyla Silver of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.; and Edmund Harvey of Hanover, N.H.

A memorial service will be held Tuesday, June 17, at 2 p.m. in Rollins Chapel at Dartmouth. Memorial gifts may be sent to Radford C. Tanzer, M. D. Current Use Fund at Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, N.H. 03566.

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