Former MU surgeon loved, admired by everyone

Friday, July 27, 2012 | 8:50 p.m. CDT; updated 10:36 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 28, 2012

COLUMBIA — Dr. Hugh E. Stephenson Jr., a former MU surgeon, administrator and avid Mizzou fan, spent his life making a difference for everyone around him.

“He connected with everyone,” Ann (Stephenson) Cameron, his daughter, said. Cameron continued by saying that some of Dr. Stephenson’s best friends were 40 or 50 years younger than him.

“Dad trained thousands of medical students and mentored thousands of Betas throughout his life,” Cameron said in an email.

Dr. Stephenson died at his summer home in Delaware on Thursday, July 26, 2012. He was 90.

He was born on June 1, 1922, to Hugh Edward Stephenson Sr. and Doris Pryor in Columbia. Hugh E. Stephenson Sr. was a dentist in Columbia for 55 years. 

Dr. Stephenson attended Hickman High School and then graduated from the MU School of Medicine in 1943. 

In his years at MU, Dr. Stephenson joined the Zeta Phi chapter of Beta Theta Pi, which Cameron said was a life-changing experience for him. He was recruited to the fraternity by Sam Walton. Dr. Stephenson continued mentoring Zeta Phi and became the Beta Theta Pi General Fraternity president from 1978 to 1981, according to a Beta Theta Pi document. He served as vice president, district chief, chapter counselor, a house corporation board member and chairman of the fund-raising campaign for a new chapter house. Dr. Stephenson was also a faculty advisor for Brian Neuner, a friend of Dr. Stephenson, who met him when he joined the Beta fraternity at MU.

"If you're in that fraternity, right from the beginning you meet Dr. Stephenson, and he kind of talked to you about the values of the high standards of the fraternity,” Neuner said. 

Dr. Stephenson always had a demeanor and a look on his face that let you know he understood, Neuner said. Neuner recalled a time when he found out his father had a heart attack, and the first person he called was Dr. Stephenson. He knew exactly what to say, Neuner said. On the day Neuner's father got out of a bypass surgery, Dr. Stephenson drove to Jefferson City just to make sure Neuner was OK. He was in the waiting room of the hospital, Neuner said. 

John Hofman, a fellow member of Beta Theta Pi, said that Dr. Stephenson never missed any of the initiation ceremonies of new fraternity members except in his last couple of years. But if he couldn't go to the fraternity, the fraternity came to him. The men from Beta Theta Pi would come to his house and sing the fraternity's songs to him and his wife in their living room, Hofman said. 

“Dr. Stephenson had been involved at the Beta house for so many years, and the interesting thing about Dr. Stephenson is that he knew almost everybody’s name. Not only did he know their name but he knew something about them." 

Hofman added that Dr. Stephenson was the most remarkable man that he has ever met. 

Not only did Dr. Stephenson play a role in the Beta Theta Pi community, but in the medical world as well.

After graduating from MU, Dr. Stephenson went to Washington University in St. Louis and completed his medical degree. Afterwards, he interned at Chicago University and spent two years in the Army Medical Corps. He returned to Washington University and was able to complete some of his surgery training at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia, according to his obituary on the School of Medicine's website.

Dr. Stephenson became a faculty member for the MU School of Medicine in 1953. He worked hard to change the MU medical school program from a 2-year to a 4-year program. He lobbied in Jefferson City and was able to secure $13 million from the state to initiate the 4-year medical program at the university in 1955.

He became the chairman of the department of surgery from 1956 to 1960 and moved up in the administration from then on, according to previous Missourian reports. Dr. Stephenson had many accomplishments as a surgeon, including being the first person to preform an open heart surgery at the university and the first person to implant an automatic defibrillator, according to his obituary.  

Dave Knight, a close family friend, recalls going to Washington D.C. for Dr. Stephenson's wedding. At the breakfast meeting, the dean of Columbia Medical School stood up and said that Dr. Stephenson was the most brilliant resident in his memory, Knight said. He said that Columbia Medical School was one of the largest hospitals in New York the time. 

Knight said that Dr. Stephenson's medical skills were such that he could go anywhere in the country, but he always loved Columbia and was loyal to it. He wanted to stay in Columbia, and he did. 

In 1996, Dr. Stephenson took his love for MU further and became the president of the UM System Board of Curators.

Mike Alden, MU athletics director, met Dr. Stephenson when he came to Mizzou 14 years ago in 1998.

“He was just a tremendous individual that gave an awful lot to the university, and we’re going to miss him very much,” he said.

Cameron said that as a child, she remembers going to all sorts of sporting events at the university. Not only was Dr. Stephenson the biggest Tigers fan, but he genuinely loved every facet of the university, most especially the medical school, she said. 

What keeps most people in admiration of Dr. Stephenson, though, was his profound personality.

Cameron said she could not remember the number of visits or phone calls from medical students and Betas asking for her father's advice throughout her childhood. He welcomed phone calls and visits to the house, and always lent an ear for support or offered advice, she said. 

“He had a way of making others the center of attention, never ever talked about himself," Cameron said. "He was a really good listener."

“He’s been a lot of things to a lot of people, not just medical students,” Knight said. “He was a man that is certainly bigger than life and a true asset to this community.”

Knight said Dr. Stephenson encouraged him to practice law in Columbia rather than Kansas City as he was completing his military service. 

"I know for sure Dr. Stephenson is why I live in Columbia," Knight said. 

He didn't just show love, but was loved by everyone around him.

“One of the few people that I knew that I doubt he had an enemy,” Neuner said.

Dr. Stephenson is survived by his wife, Sally Stephenson; Ann Stephenson Cameron and her husband, Alex, of Edmond, Okla.; a son, Hugh (Ted) Edward Stephenson III, of Columbia; a niece, Sally Anglin, of Brunswick; a nephew, Rick Greenblatt, of Boston; and two grandchildren, Sarah and Scott Cameron, of Edmond, Okla.

Services for Dr. Stephenson will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 11 at the First Baptist Church of Columbia, 1112 E. Broadway. 

Memorial contributions may be sent to the MU Medical School Foundation, 1 Hospital Drive, MA202, DC018.00, Columbia, MO 65212.

Supervising editor is Jake Kreinberg.

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