The Flying Doc of East Africa - Thomas Rees
Oct 2, 2012 1:00 PM
One of the best things about the School of Medicine's Alumni Weekend is the Alumni Awards Banquet where we recognize a few of our most distinguished alumni and celebrate the class of medical school graduates who have reached their 50th reunions. This year we honored:
- Randall W. Burt, M.D., Distinguished Alumni Award
- Richard G. Middleton, M.D., Distinguished Service Award
- Thomas D. Rees, M.D., Distinguished Humanitarian Award
- Mansoor Emam, M.D., Distinguished Humanitarian Award
I want to tell the story of one of these recipients whose career was mostly in New York City, at my previous institution NYU, but whose ties to Utah have remained strong and who makes us all feel so proud to be associated with this University.
That is Dr. Thomas Rees.
Dr. Rees, now retired, was one of the most celebrated authorities on aesthetic plastic surgery. He was professor of plastic surgery at NYU for decades. He wrote the definitive two-volume text. He was plastic surgeon to many of the stars of New York City. His reputation was well known to me because although he was retired when I worked there, he returned to NYU each year to deliver a lecture to the plastics trainees that was much anticipated.
When I landed here last year in this new role at the University of Utah, I was delighted to learn that Dr. Rees was not only an alumnus of the medical school, but his father had been a distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Biology. In his honor, Tom and his wife Nan had established an endowed chair. I had the pleasure of meeting them both for the first time last winter. Sadly, Nan was diagnosed with cancer shortly thereafter and passed away this spring.
Before that, in the course of our getting to know each other better, I discovered there was a whole other side to Tom and Nan’s life that was just a remarkable as his academic career. In the 1950’s, starting with a trip to Africa with his two British plastic surgeon mentors, Tom and Nan began a 50+ year love affair with Africa, where Tom and his colleagues performed countless operations in the most remote parts of East Africa. They established an organization called the Flying Doctors of East Africa, now called AMREF, the African Medical Research Foundation, one of the most respected health care development organizations in Africa. His adventures in co-founding this organization are chronicled in a captivating book, Daktari, which shows that not only is he a remarkable talented surgeon, sculptor, and scholar, but Dr. Rees is also a gifted storyteller.comments powered by Disqus