Dr. Radford Chapple Tanzer was a world-renowned, pioneer plastic surgeon.
I treasure the times we spent with this amazing man. I first met Uncle Rad and his wife Velma at Lake Pleasant, New York, where his family spent at least a week each summer. Many times before and after his first wife’s death, I would take trips to lovely Hanover, New Hampshire, to visit with him. We would sometimes go canoeing, to a football game, and other times out to lunch. We’d chat mostly about family, the weather, and what was new at Dartmouth College. Upon meeting him, you would never know Uncle’s Rad’s ground-breaking past–he was such a humble man. The book shelves in his study contained not only medical journals, but hand-signed books from both Ted Geisel (“Dr. Seuss“) and Robert Frost, who were his friends.
Although not born and raised in Hanover, he had considered it his home for more years than many people live. In 1921, at the age of 16 he first arrived in Hanover, New Hampshire, to enter Dartmouth College. His postgraduate studies took him to Harvard University Medical School in Boston, where he obtained his M.D. in 1929. He completed his residency in surgery at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York, and then joined the Dartmouth Medical School faculty as its 16thphysician in 1939. He studied under two plastic surgery pioneers: under Dr. Jerome P. Webster, (at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital) and Sir Harold Gillies, (in England in 1939). In 1946 he returned to Hanover as one of only three full-time plastic surgeons in northern New England, starting the Section of Plastic Surgery in Hanover. He became chairman and opened the first approved residency training program in plastic surgery in New England at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital.
On 24 December 1943 he married Velma Maul. She was a registered nurse, and one of the first airline stewardesses in the United States. She died in 1990 after 47 years of marriage. My husband an I were with him when he gently cast her ashes into a Hanover lake. At his request, we slowly rowed out to the middle of the crystal blue water, and paused for a moment, in silent prayer. Then without further ceremony, he poured the dust and particles slowly out of the canister. Her final resting place was a place where they had often ventured in their canoe. He bequeathed this same canoe to my husband and I.
In 1951 his first ear reconstruction in Hanover, on a child born with one missing ear, was innovative, and possibly was his most important contribution to plastic surgery. He was a founding member of the American Board of Plastic Surgery, and in 1959 helped establish the New England Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons. He served as President of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons in 1972.
In 1995, at the age of 90, he fell in love again, and married Mrs. Sheila Harvey of Hanover, New Hampshire, the widow of Professor Lawrence Harvey.
In 2002, at the age of 96, he was honored to receive Hanover’s Boston Post Cane. In July 2002 he was grand marshall in the Hanover New Hampshire parade and he delivered a brief speech as follows: “Eighty-one years ago I walked across the Dartmouth Green for the first time. It was September 1921, the week I turned 16 and began my freshman year at Dartmouth College. Freshly baked popovers were served to us in College Hall every Sunday, a treat I rarely passed up. About Rollin’s Chapel, however, we felt a little differently. Attendance was daily and mandatory. I remember, too, a large cart drawn by two oxen that stopped each morning to pick up food scraps from College Hall dining room. The driver took them to the pig farm, where Trumbull Nelson is now. Hanover’s recycling goes back a long way. From early childhood I wanted to be a doctor. After finishing Dartmouth in 1925, Harvard Medical School in 1929, and my surgical training in Rochester, I returned to Hanover to join the Hitchcock Clinic. Sixty-three years ago, things were on a small scale at the old hospital that stood around the corner on Maynard Street. There were only 15 other doctors on the staff. Now in my 97th year, when I look around at all the changes, I’m grateful to be an American and a Hanoverian. I’m happy to be back on the Green with you for this 4th of July celebration. And it is an honor to have the Boston Post Cane. LONG LIVE THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!”
Radford Chapple Tanzer, son of John Marcellus & Mary Louise (Chapple) Tanzer, was born 16 September 1905 in Little Falls, New York and died 12 June 2003 in Hanover, New Hampshire. His father was a dentist, and in 1925 the mayor of Little Falls, New York. Rad’s grandfather, Frederick Tanzer was born in Frieberg Germany, and came to the United States from Germany in 1854. Radford was an only son, but he had 4 sisters: Caroline, Elisabeth, Katrina and Louise Chapple. Although Radford did not have any children, each of his sisters married and had children. And those children (and their spouses) all admired and adored him for his soft-spoken intelligence, his loving patience, and his kindness.