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The Leader Named Pack

Aron D. Wahrman, MD, MBA, MHCDS, FACS

July 1, 2022

Personal memorabilia helps connect us to our surgical forebears. One book in my collection possesses a particularly meaningful bookplate.

George T. Pack, MD, FACS (1898–1969), seemed to live, practice, and accomplish in excess of the 70 years his natural life allotted. As a student at The Ohio State University, Columbus, he gave a lecture, which Milton Winternitz, MD, the dean of Yale Medical School, New Haven, CT, attended. Impressed, he hired Dr. Pack to teach, only discovering later that the young lecturer was still an undergraduate. This situation was rectified when Dr. Pack received a medical degree from Yale in 1922.

Dr. Pack’s initial training and interests were in pathology and radiotherapy, but he pursued surgical residency at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and then Memorial Hospital (now Memorial Sloan Kettering) in New York, NY. Early in his career he wrote a seminal text on burns, but his energy and evolving expertise in cancer attracted the attention and support of James Ewing, MD, the famed pathologist at Cornell Medical School, New York, NY. Dr. Pack was put in charge of the gastric and mixed tumor services. His clinical productivity and prolific authorship made him internationally known, and he leveraged his reputation to form the Pack Medical Group and an eponymous Foundation at Memorial, ultimately training 45 fellows.

The George Pack bookplate
The George Pack bookplate
Left: Dr. Pack. Reprinted from Ariel, IM. George T. Pack, MD, 1898–1969, a tribute. © Am J Roentgenol Radium Ther Nucl Med. 1969;107(2):443-446. Right: The Smith and Wallace bookplates. Far right: First edition (1855) of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem.
Left: Dr. Pack. Reprinted from Ariel, IM. George T. Pack, MD, 1898–1969, a tribute. © Am J Roentgenol Radium Ther Nucl Med. 1969;107(2):443-446. Right: The Smith and Wallace bookplates. Far right: First edition (1855) of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem.

Surgical Oncologist to World Leaders

Even 40 years after his death, articles detailing his knowledge of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s putative melanoma and his involvement with Eva Peron, first lady of Argentina, have appeared in the lay and professional press.1-3 Dr. Pack operated on Peron twice after she was diagnosed in 1950 with advanced cervical cancer at age 30.

For political reasons, President Juan Peron hid Dr. Pack’s involvement and the diagnosis from both his wife and the public. Dr. Pack entered and left the operating room while she was under anesthesia. She ultimately succumbed in 1952 despite surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy and became a mythic figure to some.

I have acquired a number of Dr. Pack’s clinical works over the years. In familiarizing myself with his life and contributions, I came across an interesting obituary by his colleague Irving Ariel, MD,4 which sheds light on Dr. Pack’s personal life, noting his love of both farming and poetry.

I was, thus, particularly gratified to acquire a book from Dr. Pack’s library bearing his distinct bookplate (designer/artist unknown). The volume is a beautifully rebound first edition (1855) of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, “The Song of Hiawatha.” The book bears two other bookplates, publisher Ormond G. Smith and noted bibliophile Walter Thomas Wallace. Wallace’s extensive collection was auctioned in 1920, and likely Smith owned this book before Dr. Pack, perhaps giving it to him.

Bookplates, an area of collection and scholarship in their own right, often bear a family or institutional crest, artistic theme, or quote meaningful to the owner. Great artists, such as Rockwell Kent and Alphonse Mucha, often would receive commissions to design a meaningful bookplate, or “ex libris.”

The Pack bookplate, here affixed to a nonmedical volume, is replete with icons and symbols surrounding the crab, the symbol for the zodiac sign Cancer. They represent Dr. Pack’s devoted care of cancer patients, his lifelong quest for the perfect combination of therapies, and his dissemination of knowledge. The plate still speaks volumes—wordlessly but understandable in any language—to those ongoing aspirations today.


References

  1. Altman LK. The doctor’s world; From the life of Evita, a new chapter on medical secrecy. The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2000/06/06/health/the-doctor-s-world-from-the-life-of-evita-a-new-chapter-on-medical-secrecy.html. Accessed May 26, 2022.
  2. Lomazow S, Fettmann E. FDR’s Deadly Secret. Public Affairs: 2010.
  3. Ortiz A. Eva Perón. St. Martin’s Press: 1996.
  4. Ariel IM. George T. Pack, MD, 1898–1969, a tribute. Am J Roentgenol Radium Ther Nucl Med. 1969;107(2):443-446.

Dr. Aron Wahrman is section chief, plastic surgery, Michael J. Crescenz Philadelphia Veterans Administration Medical Center; clinical associate professor of surgery, division of plastic surgery, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia; and fellow, Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, Philadelphia.