Hugh E. Stephenson, Jr., M.D. – American Football’s Legendary Kicking Historian
Dr. Stephenson had regulation-size goalposts in his front yard and spent many years kicking footballs with his son, Ted, and his daughter, Ann. Dr. Stephenson invented a drop-kicking technique that was difficult to block, and he developed a special shoe for kickers. He even authored a book called, “The Kicks That Count.” When President Ronald Reagan read Dr. Stephenson’s book on punting pigskins, the Gipper and doctor met to share their love of football. President Reagan later wrote to Dr. Stephenson, “I would agree that when all is said and done, it is the kicker who usually spells the difference.”
Born in Columbia on June 1, 1922, Dr. Stephenson was the son of Dr. Hugh E. Stephenson Sr. and Doris Pryor Stephenson. He graduated first in his class at Hickman High School and went on to earn two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Missouri in 1943. He completed medical school at Washington University in St. Louis and subsequently interned at the University of Chicago before spending two years in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. Between 1950 and 1953, he was chief surgery resident at New York University’s Bellevue Hospital. In 1956, he was named one of the “Ten Outstanding Young Americans” by the United States Jaycees.
He was a distinguished cardio-thoracic surgeon, developed one of the first mobile cardiac resuscitation units and led the effort to establish a four-year medical school at the University of Missouri. As a pioneering heart surgeon, higher education supporter and organized medicine leader, Dr. Stephenson received many awards for his achievements. At the University of Missouri School of Medicine, he served as the John Growdon Distinguished Professor of Surgery, chair of surgery, interim dean and University Hospital’s first elected chief of staff. Dr. Stephenson performed the university’s first open heart surgery in 1958, and he was one of the very first surgeons to implant an automatic defibrillator. He performed the first successful resection of a coronary aneurysm documented in medical literature. He “retired” in 1992, but in 1996 he joined MU’s Board of Curators and served as its president in 2000.
He was an advocate at the national, state and local levels for such organizations as the American Medical Association (a delegate for 36 years to the AMA and Chairman of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education), Southern Medical Association (president, 1998-1999), Missouri State Surgical Society (president), Missouri State Medical Association (vice president), American Heart Association (the local chapter presents an annual award in his name, and the annual Heart Ball is named after him), American Association of Surgery of Trauma, American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Cardiology, American College of Surgeons, , International Society of Heart Transplantations, Pan Surgery of the Alimentary Tract, Society of Vascular Surgery, American Trauma Society and Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB). He was a founding member of the University of Missouri Medical School Foundation and Medical Alumni Organization, which awarded Dr. Stephenson its highest honor, the Citation of Merit.
An author of nine books, Stephenson chronicled the history of the University of Missouri School of Medicine in his “Aesculapius Was a Mizzou Tiger.” He wrote four editions of “Cardiac Arrest and Resuscitation,” two editions of “Immediate Care of the Acutely Ill and Injured,” and “America’s First Nobel Prize in Medicine, the Story of Charles Claude Guthrie,” and published more than a hundred articles in various medical journals.
As the first James IV Association Surgical Traveler from the United States, Dr. Stephenson visited more than 100 medical schools and hospitals before advising Missouri on where and how to train physicians. His approach to training students and residents has become a formal component of the MU School of Medicine’s innovative curriculum, which emphasizes early exposure to clinical education and patient-centered care. Students would watch Dr. Stephenson spend an hour with each patient; such learning opportunities are rare in an era of outpatient surgeries and managed care. What medical students are taught inevitably changes, Dr. Stephenson said, but how they are taught should remain the same. “I always thought if you could make someone feel even greater than they are, they will rise to that occasion,” he said. “You don’t build great doctors by beating them down.”
Dr. Stephenson was a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He was Beta Theta Pi general fraternity president from 1978 to 1981 and the recipient of Beta’s 30th Oxford Cup. Dr. Stephenson served the fraternity in nearly every capacity possible from vice president, district chief, Zeta Phi chapter counselor, a house corporation board member and chairman of two fundraising campaigns for a new chapter house in 1960 and 2010. For seven decades, until his health prevented him from attending, he administered the annual pledge class exam and attended initiation. In 2011 and 2012, when illness prevented him from attending, the pledge class came to him to serenade him and his Beta sweetheart, Sally. He took great interest in knowing a little something about each pledge.
An avid athlete and sports fan, Dr. Stephenson enjoyed attending Mizzou games and Beta intramurals. He had regulation-size goalposts in his front yard and spent many years kicking footballs with his son, Ted, and his daughter, Ann. Dr. Stephenson invented a drop-kicking technique that was difficult to block, and he developed a special shoe for kickers. He even authored a book called, “The Kicks That Count.” When President Ronald Reagan read Dr. Stephenson’s book on punting pigskins, the Gipper and doctor met to share their love of football. President Reagan later wrote to Dr. Stephenson, “I would agree that when all is said and done, it is the kicker who usually spells the difference.”
In 1996, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher presented Dr. Stephenson with the Freedom Foundation’s Quality in Medicine Award. He was honored in 2002 alongside Walter Cronkite with the Mr. Missouri Award for his lifetime contributions to the state of Missouri. He was a lifetime member of First Baptist Church, the Columbia Rotary Club and the Elks Club. He was active over the years with the city’s United Way campaign.
Dr. Stephenson is survived by his loving wife of 48 years, Sarah “Sally” Dickinson Stephenson of Columbia and his adoring children, grandchildren, niece and nephew, including son, Hugh “Ted” Edward Stephenson III of Columbia; daughter, Ann Stephenson Cameron and husband Alex Cameron of Edmond, Okla.; his two grandchildren, Sarah and Scott Cameron; niece, Sally Anglin of Brunswick; and nephew, Rick Greenblatt of Boston.
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