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University of Missouri

Iconic Doctor Has Big Heart

Hugh Stephenson leaves a lasting impact on MU’s School of Medicine.

old photo of Dr. Hugh Stephenson

Hugh Stephenson leaves a lasting impact on MU’s School of Medicine. Photo from 1957 Missouri Alumnus.

Hugh E. Stephenson Jr. was a trailblazer in the medical field, a champion for higher education in Missouri and — surprisingly — an expert on drop kicking footballs. Stephenson, BA, BS Med ’43, of Columbia, died of Parkinson’s July 26, 2012, at the age of 90.

Stephenson is known for developing the crash cart, performing MU’s first open-heart surgery and surgically implanting the newly developed automatic defibrillator. He was also the first elected chief of staff at University Hospital, a former UM System Board of Curators president and the Department of Surgery’s eponym. However, Stephenson’s greatest legacy is his role in ushering in MU’s four-year School of Medicine program after more than 40 years of a two-year curriculum.

In the early 1950s, while Stephenson was completing his residency at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, he was an influential voice in the debate about the four-year medical school’s location in Missouri. Some argued the program should be in a bigger city such as Kansas City. Stephenson advocated — through letters, phone calls and frequent trips to Missouri — that the school be in Columbia so rural Missourians could have access to high-quality health care. In 1955, MU opened the doors to its new program. “My role in building the University of Missouri’s medical school and hospital in Columbia is what I am most proud of,” Stephenson said in 2005.

A Hickman High School valedictorian, Stephenson grew up two blocks from MU. He was an active Beta Theta Pi member as a student and alumnus. When he wasn’t at the Beta house, Stephenson was practicing his patented pigskin drop kick at Faurot Field. One of his nine books was The Kicks That Count, which detailed his unique drop-kicking method and a shoe he invented for the purpose. This work caught President Ronald Reagan’s attention, even prompting the president to reach out to Stephenson to discuss his techniques.

“His interests were varied, his skills were legendary and his legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of us all,” says MU Chancellor Brady J. Deaton.

Read a profile on the pioneering heart surgeon from the Summer 2005 issue of MIZZOU.