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History of the Rives Society

Prepared by Isidore Cohn, Jr. from Memory, March 2008

When Dr. Rives retired, the students, completely on their own, presented a review based on the then current TV show “This Is Your Life” and they arranged to have all the people present for the occasion. It was in the main auditorium at 1542 in the afternoon and somehow it was a complete surprise for Dr. Rives It must have been in 1962, or it might have been late in 1961 when he announced his intention to retire. In addition to the roles played by some of the faculty, there were senior surgeons who were contemporaries of Dr. Rives, all of whom were seated in the front row and at the time there were pictures of that group – my Father included. The entire event was very well done and Dr. Rives – and Mrs. Rives - seemed most appreciative,

After the show a group gathered and began to think of some kind of permanent memorial that would be appropriate for Dr. Rives. Most prominent in the group were Don Williams, Claude Craighead, and Will Leon.

Don Williams was Dr. Rives first resident and was always extremely loyal to Dr. Rives and LSU, probably demonstrating this most effectively by organizing and heading the surgical service in Lafayette where he had established a successful practice. For most of his life, he continued to run that portion of the LSU Surgical Residency program. Drs. Craighead and Leon were two of the former residents who were most active at Touro and both were major factors in the development of the Department before and after this event.

Somewhere in the discussion, the idea of a society to be named for Dr. Rives gained favor, without any clear-cut idea of what the society would do or how it would function. I believe Don Williams and Claude Craighead were the first to offer some initial financing for the project and also offered to canvas other former residents as charter members and as a source of funding the organization. It should be noted that there was NO list in the School, Charity Hospital, the Department of Surgery, or anywhere else of former residents, so it was purely on the basis of the memory of two or three people that a list was established.

The legal “Articles of Incorporation” were drawn up by Mr. Eberhard Deutsch, a patient of Dr. Rives and friend of several of the organizers. It concludes as follows: “THUS DONE AND PASSED at my office in the City of New Orleans, on the day, month and year hereinabove first set forth October 7, 1964….”

The articles follow Louisiana legal language and provide coverage for many conditions that are unlikely to be of concern to the Society. The key objectives are outlined as follows:

“This corporation is organized for the following objects and purposes and to engage in and carry out the following activities and purposes:


a) To pay tribute and to honor a great teacher, surgeon, and friend, Dr. James D. Rives;

b) To promote, cultivate, foster and increase the advancement of the knowledge, practice and teaching of surgery;

c) To establish and support a visiting professorship to be named the James D. Rives Visiting Professorship in the Department of Surgery in the Louisiana State University School of Medicine…”

“The first Board of Directors and Officers were named as follows:

President                Donald Williams, M. D.
Vice President        Lawrence Strug, M. D.*
Secretary                William Ogden, II, M. D.*
Treasurer                William Leon, M. D.
Director                   Isidore Cohn, Jr., M D.
Director                   Claude C. Craighead, M. D.
Director                   Robert Emmett, M. D.*”

(*Larry Strug ran the Thoracic Surgery Service for many years, was a major support for the Department, and was a leading surgeon at Touro Infirmary.  Bill Ogden was in practice with Dr. Rives at Touro.  Bob Emmett was Chief Resident when I joined the faculty in 1952, and built a major practice in Lake Charles)

For all practical purposes, the Chairman of the Department served as Secretary from the beginning, and it is not clear when the change came about.

One other legal maneuver did not seem necessary until January 1, 1999, when an “Affiliation Agreement” was signed with the LSU Board of Supervisors giving the Society official standing within the University and assuring the Board that the Society would conduct its activities in accordance with broad University policies.

From the beginning, membership was open to all who completed any LSU Surgical Residency program, and any member of the Departmental faculty. Honorary membership was offered to all Rives Visiting Professors.

The first Visiting Professorship was in 1965. It took that long to be sure we had sufficient funds to pay for the first year and to insure the future, to get a commitment from a recognized prospective guest for a time that fit both his schedule and ours. It should be remembered that even at that time highly sought after surgical guests spent more time in the air than on the ground – as is still true. It was also necessary that we marshal space for lectures, classes, and other activities and that we could mesh times for our planned activities with school activities.

The plan, as it evolved, was to have the Visiting Professor – and his wife – arrive on a Wednesday in time to conduct a student class (juniors) on Thursday morning, tour the School and Hospital facilities in the afternoon. On Thursday evening there was a small invitational dinner for the guest and officers of the Rives society. On Friday the guest would observe or participate in operations at Charity, have lunch with senior residents; conduct a session restricted to residents, with no staff allowed. Friday afternoon was reserved for the Rives Lecture. Friday evening would be devoted to a cocktail party, for many years at the Craighead’s home, for all Rives members, residents and spouses. This allowed residents to have a face-to-face conversation with an “established authority”. Saturday morning was a session at Charity with all Junior and Senior students, followed by resident presentations of unusual cases for discussion by the Visiting Professor. Saturday evening was a subscription dinner for members and spouses, with residents plus spouses at a reduced rate. The evening ended with the presentation to the guest of some memento of his visit.

Originally there was a purpose to the Executive Committee dinner, which was lost this year for reasons that will become evident shortly. The original objective was to introduce the guest to key members of the faculty and to give him a chance to size up the people and the institution in which he would be involved for several days. Lectures and visits by outstanding surgeons were almost unknown at LSU at this time, and LSU was not well known in the broad surgical community, particularly in view of the long history of our other medical school. Thus an initial, social introduction of the guest and the faculty was an important preliminary for success of the visit and for longevity of the plan. I believe it continued to serve this purpose for all subsequent years except for the two years when Larry Hollier and Pat O’Leary made “introductions” superfluous.

There were several distinct objectives in the selection of Visiting professors. When the Rives Society started, almost all medical students were residents of Louisiana (still largely true), and many may never have been outside the state. They had rarely had any contact with teachers other than the LSU faculty. To a lesser extent most of this was also true for residents. Providing a contact with a name they had seen in textbooks or in journal articles provided an extra spark to their education, even if the views expressed were at odds with local thoughts. Seeing our facilities and the endless clinical opportunities at Charity Hospital gave visitors a new appreciation of LSU, even though they had been familiar with stories and journal reports of Charity experiences. Hearing the caliber of student and resident presentations gave the guest something to remember about LSU and to spread around the country. As a very substantial benefit to us, it provided access for our residents to find additional training in specific fields not covered here. In time, exposure to outside surgical thoughts was widened to include individuals who were here for major meetings and would come to the school for a lecture or student class. As more meetings came to New Orleans, these opportunities were extended.

The importance of the impression the guest would take away from LSU was stressed to students and residents throughout the year, not just in the interval immediately preceding the visit. This built up interest and anticipation well in advance of the visit; and assured optimum attendance at all sessions and superior presentations by all. As time went on it also gave returning former residents an opportunity to compare the performance of the current group with their own of previous years.

The selection of speakers was essentially a personal choice, based upon reputation of the individual and his recognized success as a speaker. When the choice had been narrowed down, the usual group of staff were asked to comment on the choice and then an invitation was issued. Arrangements were usually made one to two years in advance to be certain we were able to fit our schedule and his.

The 44th annual meeting just concluded marks the Rives Society as the oldest continuing group of any type in the Medical School. It is an important milestone that I hope will be strengthened with each passing year. The interest of relatively recent residents in revitalizing the Society is an encouraging step and their efforts deserve support.

My reason for putting together this “review” is to provide background for those who are not aware of some of the individuals who made the organization a success, and to explain how some of the activities came into existence. It is by no means an attempt to plan for the future.


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