Barnes Woodhall

1970, St. Louis

Barnes Woodhall was born in Rockport, Maine, on January 22, 1905. His father, Charles H. Woodhall, was one of the original executives of the Boys' Clubs of America. Because his family moved frequently while he was growing up, Dr. Woodhall received his early education at a number of schools in New England and New Jersey. He then spent his collegiate years at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he excelled academically and also found time to become proficient at wrestling, boxing, and ski jumping.

While he was in college, Dr. Woodhall worked during the summers in the New York offices of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, and seemed headed toward a career as a stockbroker. Fortunately, however, his interests were diverted toward medicine in his senior year by a stimulating biology teacher. After receiving an A.B. degree from Williams College in 1926, Dr. Woodhall entered The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and obtained his M.D. degree in 1930.

Even then, Dr. Woodhall showed the pioneering initiative that typified his subsequent career. On August 25, 1928, he became one of the few married medical students of that era. His bride, Frances Colman, was originally from Duluth, Minnesota. She was an excellent swimmer and was preparing for the 1924 Olympic trials when she decided instead to pursue another of her interests--medical illustration. She studied the basic illustration techniques at the Mayo Clinic and then moved to The Johns Hopkins for advanced work with Max BrSdel. Among the works illustrated by Mrs. Woodhall while Dr. Woodhall was in training was The Sign of Babinski: A Study of the Evolution of Cortical Dominance in Primates by J. F. Fulton and A. D. Keller (Charles C Thomas, Publisher, Springfield, IL., 1932).

As a result of part-time experimental work while he was a medical student, Dr. Woodhall became interested in a career in ophthalmology. But during an internship and 7 years of surgical residency training at The Johns Hopkins, his field of interest changed. At that time, many of the basic neurosurgical techniques had been developed, but cerebral angiography, blood transfusions, antibiotics, steroids, and many other essentials of current neurosurgical practice were not yet in general use. A great deal remained to be done. After several arduous rotations on the "brain service" of Dr. Walter Dandy, Dr. Woodhall accepted the challenge of specializing in this difficult field.

When he finished his training in 1937, Dr. Woodhall was appointed to the faculty of the Duke University School of Medicine as an assistant professor with the responsibility for organizing a neurosurgical service. His first operation at Duke was a 3-hour retrogasserian neurotomy by the suboccipital approach. In his characteristically vivid operative note, he stated, "The time of this procedure was unnecessarily prolonged because of the inexperienced team, and because of the bleeding in which the operator unfortunately found himself." Also characteristically, his patient had an excellent result and recovered uneventfully.

Dr. Woodhall's initial work at Duke covered a range of neurosurgical topics, but it was interrupted by World War II. Dr. Woodhall enlisted in the Army Medical Corps in 1942, and after a stint at the Ashford General Hospital in West Virginia, he served as chief of neurosurgery at the Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C. until 1946. During that 4-year period, Lt. Col. Woodhall helped
to instruct the American general surgeons who treated the majority of acute wartime neurosurgical trauma cases, and he accumulated a broad experience in dealing with peripheral nerve injuries (for which he was awarded the Legion of Merit). Later, as a consultant to the Surgeon General and to the Veterans Administration, he served as co-editor and contributor to the two-volume history of neurosurgery in the United States Army during World War II, and as co-author of a definitive study of the peripheral nerve injuries sustained by American soldiers.

Dr. Woodhall returned to Duke University in 1946 as professor and chairman of the Division of Neurosurgery. Dr. Guy L. Odom had come to Duke in 1943, and with his help, Dr. Woodhall organized a neurosurgical residency training program there. From 1946 through 1959, 21 men entered the Duke neurosurgical residency program. Eleven remained in academic neurosurgery, and six became chairmen of their own departments.

With Dr. Odom and his various residents, Dr. Woodhall investigated a number of basic neurosurgical problems, such as peripheral nerve surgery, aneurysms and subbarachnoid hemorrhage, hypothermia, and the chemotherapy of brain tumors.

These studies, his large clinical practice, and his teaching and administrative duties filled a large portion of every day for Dr. Woodhall, but he still found time to advance neurosurgery on a national and international basis by accepting a series of editorial and organizational offices. In 1953 he became a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Neurosurgery, and he served as its chairman in 1961 and 1962. He also served on the Advisory Board of the Journal. For many years he was editor of the American Lectures in Neurosurgery series of monographs published by Charles C Thomas.

Dr. Woodhall was president of the American Academy of Neurological Surgeons in 1946, the Southern Neurosurgical Society in 1954, the Harvey Cushing Society from 1963 to 1964, and the Society of Neurological Surgeons from 1964 to 1965. He also served as a member of the Executive Council of the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies in 1960 and as treasurer of the Second International Congress of Neurological Surgery, held in Washington, D.C. in 1961. In 1965 he was an honorary vice president of the Third International Congress of Neurological Surgery in Copenhagen.

While at the peak of his neurosurgical career in 1960, Dr. Woodhall began a second career as a university administrator. Dr. Odom accepted the position of chairman of the Duke Division of Neurosurgery, and Dr. Woodhall successively became dean of the Duke University School of Medicine, and assistant provost, vice provost, associate provost, and chancellor pro tem of Duke University. During the years from i960 to 1969, Dr. Woodhall experienced firsthand the trials of a university executive. Largely due to his cool head and firm but understanding leadership, Duke University maintained an even keel through the turmoil of student dissent.

Dr. Woodhall's knowledge and administrative abilities also prompted his selection as an advisor or consultant to various medical groups between 1960 and 1970, such as the Health Planning Council for Central North Carolina, the National Institutes of Health, the Veterans Administration, and the American Cancer Society. From 1964 to 1968, Dr. Woodhall was a member and then chairman of the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine. In 1967 he journeyed to Australia to visit six universities and the Canberra Research Council to discuss the problem of the modern medical curriculum.

Despite his busy professional career, Dr. Woodhall maintained a close and harmonious family life. He and Mrs. Woodhall had the satisfaction of watching their two children mature and begin useful careers of their own, and their holidays were enlivened by visits from four grandchildren.

The years brought Dr. Woodhall additional laurels. In 1962, Dr. Woodhall's former residents gathered in Durham for a scientific and social meeting in his honor. More recently, the Duke medical alumni commissioned a portrait of Dr. Woodhall that now hangs in the Duke Hospital amphitheater. He was named James B. Duke Professor of Neurosurgery at Duke University, he was elected a Charter Member of the Society of Scholars at The Johns Hopkins University, and he was given an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Williams College. In 1965, the book Neurosurgical Classics was dedicated to Dr. Woodhall, and, in 1970, he was selected as the honored guest at the Annual Meeting of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

At the Fourth International Congress of Neurological Surgery, held in New York City in 1969, Dr. Woodhall was one of six distinguished neurosurgeons from around the world who were selected to give special lectures. Typically, Dr. Woodhall did not mention any of the areas of his previous achievements, but instead focused his attention on certain aspects of cerebral biochemical energetics, a new field that he explored with his younger colleagues. At the time when most men would be summarizing their life's work, Dr. Woodhall was looking ahead to intensified research in this exciting area. Dr. Barnes Woodhall died in March 1985.