Renowned surgeon, mentor and teacher Hunter Holmes McGuire Jr. dies at 88

During his tenure at the School of Medicine, McGuire served as assistant dean for students, inter...
During his tenure at the School of Medicine, McGuire served as assistant dean for students, interim dean and professor of general surgery. He also served as chief of surgical services at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center until 2000. Photo courtesy VCU Tompkins-McCaw Library.

Hunter H. McGuire Jr., M.D., whose leadership helped shape the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine during an influential 35-year career, died Monday morning at his home in Richmond. He was 88.

A surgeon, teacher and administrator, McGuire was uniformly respected by his students, trainees and colleagues.

“I admired Dr. McGuire’s enthusiasm for encouraging, educating and training medical students and residents who now serve as a living legacy to his mentorship,” said Peter F. Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine.

Though two decades separated the two physicians’ careers at VCU, McGuire and Buckley had numerous opportunities to meet in the past two years as McGuire remained engaged with the medical school well beyond retirement.

During his tenure at the School of Medicine, McGuire served as assistant dean for students, interim dean and professor of general surgery. He also served as chief of surgical services at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center until 2000. The Veterans Affairs Hospital is named for McGuire’s great-grandfather and namesake, a Civil War surgeon who amputated the arm of Major Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson. McGuire’s great-grandfather helped found the University College of Medicine, which merged with the Medical College of Virginia in 1913. In 1968, MCV joined with the Richmond Professional Institute to form VCU.

Born in Richmond on Dec. 13, 1929, McGuire was fifth in a line of physicians in his paternal family, beginning with his great-great-grandfather, Hugh Holmes McGuire, who was an eye surgeon. McGuire graduated from MCV in 1955 and continued at the academic medical center for his research fellowship and surgical residency training.

“Hunter was a modest giant in our medical community who was committed to service to his fellow man,” said Walter Lawrence, M.D., professor of surgery emeritus at VCU School of Medicine and director emeritus of VCU Massey Cancer Center.

For more than two decades, Lawrence worked closely with McGuire at the School of Medicine and the VA.

“Hunter was a man of few words, but words were always well chosen, whether written or spoken,” Lawrence said. “His career in Richmond focused on medical education, first at MCV where he was dean of students as well as practicing surgeon, but his role in education really blossomed when he became chief of surgery at our affiliated VA hospital named after his famous ancestor.”

As chief of surgery at the McGuire VA Medical Center, McGuire mentored young surgeons in heart transplantation and neurosurgery. In addition to helping design the current Veterans Affairs Hospital, McGuire helped build the hospital’s heart transplant program. The McGuire VA Medical Center remains the only Veterans Affairs Hospital in the country that performs heart transplants on site.

A skilled artist as well as a physician, McGuire devoted time outside the hospital to painting watercolor landscapes. He often applied his artistic abilities to his professional pursuits, composing and illustrating a series of pen-and-ink booklets for general surgery residents that included instructions on common surgical procedures, emphasizing meticulous and efficient surgical techniques.

“Hunter’s knowledge of surgery and of medical education, and of medical and surgical history made tremendous contributions to the MCV Surgery Department, the field of surgery, and the School of Medicine,” said Heber H. “Dickie” Newsome Jr., M.D., who served as dean of VCU School of Medicine during a 40-year career at the medical school. Newsome met McGuire as a surgical intern at MCV in 1962, when McGuire was chief resident of the Department of Surgery.

McGuire remained active in the Richmond community after retiring at 70, serving on the vestries of three Episcopal churches and on the boards of the Virginia Historical Society and Hollywood Cemetery. In addition to painting and drawing, he enjoyed golf and sailing, but his passion remained in serving as an advocate for utilizing scientific reasoning to help patients.

McGuire at a 2017 School of Medicine reception. Photo by Kevin Schindler.
McGuire at a 2017 School of Medicine reception. Photo by Kevin Schindler.

The same day he learned of his friend and former colleague’s death, Lawrence received a letter in the mail from McGuire relating to a recent discussion the two physicians recently had on innovative approaches to improving health care delivery for Americans.

“I have felt sorrow, as well as having happy memories since learning of Hunter’s death on Monday,” Lawrence said.

A graveside service and celebration of life will be held in Hollywood Cemetery at 10 a.m. on Saturday.