Dr. B. Herold Griffith trained dozens of plastic surgeons and repaired the face of Chicago Cubs pitcher Jim Brewer after a powerhouse punch from Billy Martin at Wrigley Field.
Martin, who developed a fight-first, ask-questions-later reputation during his tempestuous baseball career, was playing for the Cincinnati Reds in 1960 when he accused Brewer of throwing at his head. He attacked Brewer on the mound with what boxers call a “Sunday punch,” a formidable blow that shattered the bone under his eye.
In a three-hour operation at the old Wesley Memorial Hospital, Dr. Griffith had to do “extensive packing and wiring of the orbit bone . . . to restore the face to its original shape,” according to news accounts at the time.
A versatile physician who performed all types of plastic surgery, Dr. Griffith was especially well-known for repairing pressure sores and cleft palates.
He died on Oct. 30 at Evanston Hospital of complications from pneumonia. Dr. Griffith was 91.
From the early 1970s through 1991, he served as chief of the plastic surgery program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, building up the department with strong hires and training dozens of residents who went on to careers in India, Japan and Great Britain, colleagues said. Dr. Griffith worked six days a week, said Dr. Peter McKinney, who lectures at Northwestern and Rush University Medical Center.
“Herold was an incredible human being. His patients always came first, followed by those he trained,” Dr. Pravin Patel said.
He was still making house calls in the 1990s. “He would often make house calls when he was worried about somebody,” said Patel, a professor of surgery at UIC and chief of pediatric plastic surgery at Shriners Hospital.
And he was different than many colleagues in another way. “Herold never played golf on Wednesdays,” Patel said. “He used his Wednesdays to go help the kids at Children’s [Memorial Hospital]. . . . He just felt those Wednesdays were devoted to the kids.”
Dr. Griffith also made sure his residents helped out the children at Shriners Hospital. Because of Dr. Griffith, Patel said, “There’s been a connection between Northwestern and Shriners for a quarter century.”
He and his late wife, Jeanne, opened up their Evanston home to medical residents for holiday dinners and invited them to the Lyric Opera and Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
“I think it was important for him to put surgery in the greater context of culture,” Patel said. “I think we all owe it to him not only to be good surgeons but good human beings.”
Dr. Griffith also did pro bono work at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and the old Cook County and Lakeside VA hospitals, McKinney said.
“If he hadn’t gone into medicine, he wanted to become an Episcopal priest to try to help as many people as possible,” said his daughter, Tristan Griffith Boyde.
He held prominent positions in medical societies. From 1981 to 1982, he chaired the American Board of Plastic Surgery, said Dr. Gregory A. Dumanian, Northwestern’s chief of plastic surgery. He headed the Plastic Surgery Research Council, chairing its annual meeting in Chicago in 1969. Dr. Griffith also served as secretary of the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, McKinney said.
Born Bezaleel Herold Griffith in Brooklyn, New York, he opted to go by “Hal.” In high school in Hackensack, New Jersey, young Hal’s studious nature and somber clothing drew the attention of his future wife, Jeanne Lethbridge. “He wore a suit jacket and a tie, and he carried a briefcase,” their daughter said. “Nobody did that.”
When she found out he was in the theater club, Jeanne tried out for a high school production of “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” just to be near him, their daughter said.
He left high school early to study pre-med at Johns Hopkins University, finishing his undergraduate degree in 16 months. He went on to earn his medical degree at Yale University and later served in the U.S. Navy, his daughter said.
He and Jeanne reconnected one Christmas Eve on a Hackensack-bound bus from Penn Station. They married in 1948 and he began work at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.
In the 1950s, “He looked at 1,000 pressure sore charts and made what was then the definitive treatise on the treatment of bedsores,” including using skin from another part of the body to repair wounds, Dumanian said. In 1957, he was recruited to Chicago by Wesley Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Griffith looked forward to annual summer trips to Nantucket with his family. In their later years, he was his wife’s caregiver. “He put her hair up in curlers every night, from 1999 until her death in 2013,” their daughter said.
He is also survived by another daughter, Susan; a granddaughter and great-grandson; and a son-in-law, Amadeus Boyde. A memorial mass is to take place Dec. 4 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 1509 Ridge, Evanston. A springtime memorial concert is also planned.