Former AAOS Now Editorial Board member Stuart Hirsch, MD, passed away peacefully in his Florida home on March 7, 2018, with his wife Lisa by his side.
After receiving his MD degree from the University of Virginia and completing his orthopaedic residency at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Brooklyn, Stuart served in the U.S. Air Force and completed a fellowship at the AO Group in Switzerland. He later joined his brother, Paul, in practice in Bridgewater, N.J., and served as a faculty member at Seton Hall School of Medicine. At the time, little did he know that he would become a legend in the orthopaedic community—not a “legend in his own mind,” as often happens, but the “real deal,” admired and loved for his unfailing support of all orthopaedic surgeons and of the AAOS and its many activities; for his kind and gentle demeanor; for his acceptance of individuals of all ages, ethnicities, and abilities; and for his unselfish life that gave so much to all who knew him.
Recognizing that orthopaedic surgeons do not practice in a vacuum, Stuart was one of the earliest champions of communication, leadership, and advocacy. He was the first chairman of the AAOS Communications Cabinet, a frequent contributor to AAOS Now, and a member of the AAOS Now editorial board.
As kindred spirits, Stuart and Sandy Gordon, past director of AAOS public relations, became a formidable duo for promoting the specialty of orthopaedics to the public—award-winning PSAs, playground builds, art shows, tributes to veterans, and books, among many other projects. I don’t believe either ever said to the other, “We can’t do that.” Instead, they always said, “Why not?” Build a complete playground in six or seven hours with a volunteer force? Why not? Organize an art exhibit about wounded military personnel? Why not? Stuart was such a passionate participant that whatever the project, he immersed himself in it until he knew all there was to know about the topic and threw himself wholeheartedly into making it a reality.
Despite his many and varied responsibilities in the AAOS, American Orthopaedic Association, Orthopaedic Research & Education Foundation, and other organizations, one activity that Stuart always had time for, and was most proud of, was the mentoring of young orthopaedic surgeons. He was deeply involved in the establishment of the AAOS Leadership Fellows Program and was instrumental in the founding of an alumni group of fellows. As one former fellow Valerae O. Lewis, MD, noted, “A true leader not only leads by example, but inspires others to do the same.” Stuart certainly inspired us, old and young alike, with his enthusiasm and dedication. His selection for the prestigious Tipton Leadership Award in 2007 is further testament to his dedication to developing orthopaedic leaders. As Ed Toriello, one of Stuart’s long-time close friends, noted, Stuart could always recognize an individual’s potential and help him or her maximize it.
Maybe it was his New Jersey background where everybody seemed to be “connected,” but Stuart knew the value of having politicians (and their votes) on your side. He knew almost every politician in New Jersey, corrupt or not, by first name. He could “schmooze” with a room full of very diverse individuals and leave each one feeling as if he or she were the most important person there. He wasn’t being fake—he truly liked almost everyone he met. He never had anything negative to say about anybody, staying true to his personal motto: “Never say a bad thing about anyone. If it’s slander, don’t repeat it; if it’s a lie, don’t tell it; and if it’s a rumor, don’t pass it on.”
Wounded in Action: An Art Exhibition of Orthopaedic Advancements,
Stuart loved photography and took thousands of snapshots of his friends and family. According to his friend Ed, Stuart took great delight in acting like a Jewish Kris Kringle who left envelopes of photos on surprised recipients’ desks or sent them in the mail.
That tendency to put others first, not himself, was perhaps his most endearing trait. He always wanted to know how you were doing and would provide people with little surprise gifts—always enlightening or educational.
Not too long ago, I talked with Stuart about how much I wanted to see Hamilton on Broadway. The next thing I know, I get a package from him: the book (all 736 pages of it and a suggestion that I read it first) from which the musical was taken, a CD of the music, and a photo album of scenes from the play. He personally made sure that I got good seats at the theater. When I asked if he had seen it, he admitted that he had not and was not feeling well enough to travel, and added, “You go and enjoy it for me.”
The final musical number in Hamilton contains the lyrics, “Who tells your story?” and “But when you’re gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame?” I can answer that countless recipients of Stuart’s kindness, generosity, wisdom, and humor will not only remember him, but will keep the flame bright and tell the story for years to come.
S. Terry Canale, MD, is the past editor-in-chief of AAOS Now.
Kay C. Daugherty, BS, is the medical editor at the Campbell Foundation.