WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Eben Alexander Jr., M.D., a pioneering academic neurosurgeon at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, died early today at his home here. He was 91.
During his long career at Wake Forest Baptist, Alexander served as chair of the Department of Neurosurgery and as the medical center’s first chief of professional services, from 1953 to 1973. He trained more than 35 surgical residents, published more than 100 articles in medical journals and was instrumental in the medical center’s being ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” for neurology and neurosurgery.
The medical center this fall began the process of establishing the Eben Alexander Jr., M.D., Chair in Neurosurgery at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
Alexander was the recipient of a Distinguished Service Award from both the American Medical Association and the Society of Neurological Surgeons, and in the same year, 1989, he was awarded Wake Forest’s highest honor, the university’s Medallion of Merit.
He had served as president of both the Society of Neurological Surgeons and the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, from which he received the association’s highest award, the Cushing Award for Outstanding Service, in 1984.
Although he became professor emeritus in 1983, he remained active in his profession, serving as editor of Surgical Neurology until 1994 and on the editorial board of the North Carolina Medical Journal to the present day. He continued to come to his office at the medical center most days of the week and was an inspiration to all who knew him.
In an article observing his colleague’s 90th birthday last year, M. Robert Cooper, M.D., professor emeritus of internal medicine, said, “We recognize an individual who has fulfilled the true meaning of the motto of Wake Forest University, Pro humanitate (To serve humanity). He has shown us how we can integrate our ideals of service in meeting needs and showing love for humanity in our daily experience. One of Dr. Alexander’s fundamental characteristics is his compassion for his patients, students, colleagues, and members of this community.”
William B. Applegate, dean of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, said Alexander’s leadership at the medical center was invaluable. “Eben Alexander was the person who made our neurosurgery program here nationally and internationally prominent. He was a profoundly important leader during both difficult and successful times here, and for three decades he has been the moral compass of our medical center.”
Alexander was born in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1913. He was a graduate of the McCallie School in Chattanooga and of the University of North Carolina, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He graduated cum laude from Harvard Medical School, where he was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha and was made the permanent president of his Class of 1939.
Following his service in the Army Medical Corps in World War II, for which he received a Bronze Star, he trained in Boston at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, The Children’s Hospital and as a research fellow at Harvard, then at Toronto General Hospital and Yale University School of Medicine, before joining the Wake Forest faculty in 1949.
Alexander is survived by his wife, Elizabeth West Alexander, and their four children, Jean Dayton Alexander Sullivan, Eben Alexander III, Elizabeth MacMath Alexander, and Phyllis Alexander Slye.
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About Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center: Wake Forest Baptist is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University School of Medicine. It is licensed to operate 1,282 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.