A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Denton Arthur Cooley, MD: A Master Craftsman and Builder

The following article originally appeared in the December newsletter to clients of Kiley Advisors, LLC.  Reprinted with permission.

I lost another hero. Dr. Denton Cooley died on November 18th 2016; he was 96. He was an incredible human being in addition to being a brilliant heart surgeon. I worked for him for 10 years, writing news releases and an occasional speech. He has the same qualities that great contractors do: a great respect for superior craft skill and the ability to analyze and take risks – in his case to save lives.

He was a superb technical surgeon, gifted with incredible speed, a true Master Craftsman. Recognized heart surgeons from around the world would “scrub in” to watch him. Dr. Christian Barnard, another high-profile heart pioneer, called Cooley’s surgery “the most beautiful he had ever seen.” Cooley and his team have done the most open heart surgeries in the world.

He was the “Captain of the Ship” in the OR; he was totally responsible for the patient, the highest authority, and he would take calculated risks to save patients, many times moving the medical frontier forward.

He was a team player. He would swing by nurse recruiting dinners while making rounds. He would show up at employee fairs, step to the dunking booth and immerse every fully suited administrator on the very first throw, child play for the eye-hand coordination that made him a UT basketball star and gifted surgeon. He was also a friend. He shadowboxed around the ring to help Josephine Abercrombie promote her fighters. He asked me to change a phrase in a news release, which read, “The heart donor died in a motorcycle accident.” With a wink he said, “Strike the word ‘cycle’ – I have friends who sell them!”

He was a speaker, author and fastidious grammarian. He lectured around the world, authored 1400 articles and books and surgically removed with his pen, my “dangling participle phrase.” (The phrase which does not attach properly to the subject of the sentence.) Books and TV programs have been written about him, and he was awarded medals by Presidents Reagan and Clinton.

He was a builder, above all. He built physicians, now healing in 47 countries. He built the world-renown Texas Heart Institute. He built a global following for Houston medicine. He built in the community with his philanthropy, and he certainly built hope in parents and patients with his surgical gifts. Above all, he built a model of how to be a true celebrity and a committed humanitarian. Thank you, Dr. Cooley.