Frank H. Mayfield

1979, Las Vegas

Frank Henderson Mayfield was born on June 23, 1908, and spent his early years on a farm in Garnett, South Carolina. Formative experiences imbued him with a sense of duty and historical perspective evident to all who have encountered his imaginative and logical mind.

When Frank was 12, the Mayfield family moved back to the ancestral home in North Carolina where his interest in farming and his considerable skills as an athlete were developed. He might have remained near the soil had his wise and gentle mother not stimulated him to enroll in the University of North Carolina and then the Medical College of Virginia. Her untimely death, a month before his graduation in 1931, was a grievous occasion for the young physician.

Frank planned a career in public health, but fortunately his talents attracted the attention of Dr. Claude Coleman, a pioneer in neurosurgery at the Medical College of Virginia who played a major role in his development and subsequent eminence in neurosurgery. Dr. Coleman was highly regarded by both Drs. Cushing and Dandy, a tribute to his courtly manner, fidelity, and surgical skill, characteristics that were revered by his protege, Frank Mayfield. During his association with Dr. Coleman and in visits to the clinics of Drs. Cushing and Dandy, Frank was able to assimilate much of the laudable teachings of both schools of this rapidly evolving profession.

During his training Frank was attracted to the genteel loveliness and character of the operating room supervisor, and in 1936 the same Queenee Jones became his wife. In the years since their marriage Queenee's charming countenance graced and complemented her dynamic husband: her forbearance, faith, and finesse enabled her to raise their four children in much the same way their paternal grandmother had raised hers.

In 1935, Dr. Coleman arranged for Frank to join Dr. Glen Spurling as an associate and teaching assistant at the University of Louisville. An immediate friendship developed between them and Dr. Mayfield's interest in the spine, kindled by previous association with Dr. Crutchfield in Virginia, was stimulated. Observations concerning the lumbar disc, the ligamentum flavum, and the effective space in the spinal canal were potent indicators of evolving contributions. At this time there was little understanding of the nature of degenerative disorders of the spine, and the mortality associated with cranial surgery was prohibitive in many hospitals of the South and Midwest. When most medical schools were seeking the services of qualified neurological surgeons, Frank Mayfield, aged 29, moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to establish a community practice of neurological surgery. In Cincinnati, a synergistic relationship was struck between Frank Mayfield and Joseph Evans, director of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, and between the community hospitals and the University of Cincinnati. This mutual respect and cooperation led to the development of a residency training program which nurtured the investigative concepts of Dr. Penfield and the clinical-surgical principles of Drs. Cushing and Dandy, and elevated Frank Mayfield to the rank of clinical professor of surgery (neurosurgery) at the University of Cincinnati.

Departments of Neurosurgery that were to prosper for 40 years under Dr. Mayfield's direction were established at the Christ and Good Samaritan Hospitals. This partnership was interrupted only once, when from 1942 to 1945, Dr. Mayfield was called to serve as chief of neurosurgery at Percy Jones General Hospital, Battle Creek, Michigan. Here his interest in spinal and peripheral nerve injuries were published.

On returning to Cincinnati, Frank's ability as a clinician, his organizational talents, and his gifts of certitude and friendship led to meteoric recognition as a surgeon, administrator, and educator. The basis for corporative practice was established, a concept later emulated throughout the country; collaboration with George Kees, a talented medical artist, led to the development of the paradigm for arterial aneurysm clips and other surgical instruments. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Crash Injury Prevention, and the first neurosurgeon to serve the Committee on Trauma, American College of Surgeons, he collaborated with Mr. Fletcher Platt of the Ford Motor Company in the development of seat belts for automobiles. At home, he was sequentially elected president of the Ohio State Neurosurgical Society in 1947, the first chartered state neurosurgical society; the Academy of Medicine of Cincinnati, and the Ohio State Medical Association; and he was appointed to the Board of Directors of the University of Cincinnati. In 1958, Frank was appointed to the American Board of Neurological Surgery, became its chairman in 1962, and was voted a Distinguished Service Award in 1969. When, in 1964, Frank and his colleagues wisely perceived that American neurosurgery did not possess a unified voice, he as president of the Harvey Cushing Society proclaimed that henceforth the American Association of Neurological Surgeons would be that spokesman. Despite Frank's humble disavowal of personal credit for the many honors bestowed upon him, his ethics, vision, prodigious energy, and his total regard for the sanctity of friendship led his peers to call him "the neurosurgeon's neurosurgeon" and the "conscience of neurosurgery."

He was honored by his colleagues in Ohio with an honorary Doctor of Science Degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1971 and as the Neurosurgeon of the Year in 1967. In 1977 he was selected as the first recipient of the Harvey Cushing Medal by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. The American Medical Association bestowed upon him The Distinguished Service Award in 1980.

Frank had the uncanny ability to know everything that was going on about him. His close alliance with members of the political and business world and his innumerable affiliations with the legal, religious, educational, and journalism fields enabled him to serve a wide variety of causes and councils with distinction and exactness. Frank's firm commitment to the "tribal rule" accredits the sanctity of physician-patient relationships; his determination to make himself and his colleagues worthy of the respect and confidence of the public and his opposition to the encroachment of outside authorities on the prerogatives of the profession earned him unique respect from his fellow men. The Congress of Neurological Surgeons was privileged to recognize Frank H. Mayfield as its honored guest, for he was the friend of all neurosurgeons. Dr. Frank Mayfield died January 2, 1991.