Guy L. Odom
1974, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Judging by the number of times his advice is sought each day by his residents, his associates at the Duke University Medical Center, and by numerous neurosurgeons practicing in other areas, it is readily apparent that Guy L. Odom, M.D., is, and has been for many years, a neurosurgeon's neurosurgeon. But from the number and variety of other individuals who consult, telephone, or visit him, it is also apparent that he is much more--a physician in the Hippocratic tradition, and an intuitive human being with a genuine concern for others and a zest for living.
Dr. Odom's main consideration is the welfare of his patients. He loves the clinical practice of neurosurgery, devoting as much of his energy as possible to it. In addition, he enjoys sharing this consuming interest with others in his highly successful role as teacher and residency program director. An accomplished neuropathologist, Dr. Odom has also had some interest in experimental neurosurgery as well, but he prefers the daily realities of a patient-oriented practice to the more hypothetical considerations of purely scientific research. Likewise, he is impatient with his administrative chores, which detain him from his patients, and over the years he has discharged his many national responsibilities primarily from a sense of duty.
A man with unyielding views of right and wrong, and of proper medical ethics and etiquette, Dr. Odom demonstrates well in his daily activities the correct way to conduct a neurosurgical practice. He places a premium on personal integrity and honesty, demanding it in his residents and associates. He stands by his word, and expects others to do the same. Heaven help them if they don't!
It would be an understatement to say simply that Guy Odom is not a spineless man. With his commonsense approach to life and to the practice of neurosurgery, he has always been on sure footing. Little escapes his detection, and he is not a man to let a sleeping dog lie. If he thinks that one of his residents has shown a hint of laziness, that one of his peers has let the quality of his residency program slip a little, or that a governmental agency is beginning to infringe on neurosurgeons' affairs, he reacts immediately and directly. Never one to avoid a confrontation, Dr. Odom speaks directly, in language that leaves little doubt about his meaning, and he seldom comes away second best.
Yet Guy Odom abhors publicity. In his role as one of the major leaders of American neurosurgery, he prefers to accomplish his work behind the scenes. He is embarrassed by persons or events that call attention to his achievements, such as the present biographical sketch, and for this reason I won't dwell further on the many traits and qualities that have endeared him to so many. Let us instead find out how Dr. Odom came to be the type of man he is.
In 1904, Guy Leroy Odom came to New Orleans from Plant City, Florida, to attend Tulane Medical School; there he met and married Marion Brown. Shortly thereafter, Guy's brother, Marvin, who already had an M.D. degree from Emory University, also moved to New Orleans. As fate would have it, he met and married Marion's sister, Yetta Brown. The two brothers established separate general practices and in 1915, Guy Odom became coroner of Jefferson Parish.
Two boys, Charles and Guy Leary, and a girl, Vada, were born to Guy and Marion Odom before Dr. Odom's untimely death of influenza in 1918. At that time, Charles Odom was 9 years old and Guy was 7. Their uncle watched over the family, but they were maintained largely by their own determination and ingenuity. Marion Odom, and later Charles Odom, both became pharmacists. They ran a drug store in the same small building in Harvey, Louisiana, in which Dr. Marvin Odom had his office. Thus, Guy Leary Odom grew up in a medical atmosphere, helping his mother and brother in their pharmacy and his uncle in his medical practice.
The two boys became somewhat interested in surgery during the years they served as dieners for their uncle, who had followed their father as coroner. But the event that sealed their fate occurred in 1923, when Charlie was 14 and Guy was 12--the two boys successfully amputated the leg of their injured collie under chloroform anesthesia, and subsequently fashioned him an artificial limb.
Charles preceded Guy at McDonogh-Jefferson High School, Tulane University, and Tulane Medical School, where he exhibited exceptional ability. He trained in general surgery at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, and subsequently has had an outstanding career as a general surgeon, not only in civilian life, but also as General George S. Patton's personal physician during World War II. Incidentally, Charles also succeeded his uncle as coroner of Jefferson Parish.
Guy has always looked up to his brother, and it was natural that he should follow in his footsteps. He completed undergraduate school in two full years, and was graduated from Tulane Medical School in 1933 at the age of 21. But he did not follow Charles into general surgery.
During his years as a medical student, Guy had developed an interest in the nervous system, largely due to the influence of Dr. Sidney Bliss, professor of biochemistry. Only one man was performing operations on the nervous system in New Orleans at that time, and after watching him operate, Dr. Odom decided that neurosurgery was a field to which he might contribute. After investigating the opportunities for training, Dr. Odom made up his mind to apply for a position at the Montreal Neurological institute, due to be opened in 1934. However, the residency paid little besides room and board, and he was engaged to be married to Suzanne Price from San Antonio in August. So he accepted an interim position at the East Louisiana State Hospital, where he served for 4 years.
Then Guy and Suzanne Odom spent the years from 1937 to 1942 in Montreal, where Dr. Odom came to know two men who strongly influenced his neurosurgical development. Dr. Wilder Penfield gave him a broad outlook on the neurological sciences, and showed him the advantages of an academic practice and a close family life. Dr. William V. Cone taught him by example the importance of round-the-clock, nit-picking attention to the details of patient care and surgical technique, as well as the value of sound urgical judgment. Dr. Odom advanced through the 5-year pyramid, rotating through experimental neurosurgery, neurology, clinical neurosurgery, and neuropathology before becoming resident in neurosurgery from 1941 to 1942.
The Odoms returned to New Orleans in 1942. Dr. Odom tried to enlist in the Army, but was rejected for medical reasons, so he began a neurosurgical practice. Soon he was seeing patients at a number of hospitals, spending much of his day in transit between them. Most of these hospitals were not equipped for neurosurgical operations, and conditions were difficult. The prevailing attitude was that neurosurgical patients were not expected to recover, and that time and money spent in their behalf was wasted. Even at Charity Hospital, where his brother Charles was director, neurosurgical instruments were not purchased until after Dr. Odom had performed a dramatically successful llthhour trephination for a brain abscess with makeshift equipment. Dr. Odom was appointed instructor in neurosurgery at Louisiana State University and looked forward to academic advancement in the ensuing years.
However, in 1943 he was contacted by a very persistent man, Dr. Deryl Hart, professor of surgery at Duke University, who finally persuaded him to come to Durham, North Carolina, for a look. Dr. Odom accepted a position as associate in neurosurgery and has remained at the Duke University Medical Center since that time, rising through the academic ranks to become professor in 1950, chairman of the Division of Neurosurgery in 1960, and James B. Duke Professor of Neurological Surgery in 1974.
Dr. Odom has especially enjoyed having his patients' beds under the same roof as his office, examining rooms, operating rooms, and laboratories. Not only has this arrangement minimized the time he has spent getting from one to the other, but it has facilitated unification of the Division of Neurosurgery at Duke, where five staff neurosurgeons and the resident staff round together daily on the combined patients of all, and are frequently called to the operating room to consult on each other's cases.
Dr. Barnes Woodhall, honored guest of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons in 1970 (1), was away in the Army when Dr. Odom arrived in Durham in 1943, but he returned in 1946. The two men, with different backgrounds and different temperaments, found themselves associated, neither one having selected the other. Yet because of their respect for each other and their similar demand for excellence, they found to their pleasure that they got along very well together. Dr. Odom became certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery in 1946, and in that same year the two men began a neurosurgical residency program. From then until 1974, 35 men have finished the Duke program; most spent 5 years in rotations similar to those that Dr. Odom went through at the Montreal Neurological Institute, but without the pyramid system. Fifteen of these men have taken academic positions, and in 1974, seven had become professors.
Dr. Odom's bibliography bears witness to his productivity since 1946. It is especially impressive when one considers that Dr. Odom has expended his major effort on his tremendous clinical practice and on the instruction of "his boys," rather than on experimental investigations.
On the national scene, Dr. Odom has also accomplished a great deal despite two personal setbacks--a serious coronary occlusion in 1960 and the death of his wife, Suzanne, in 1965. He has been vice president (1951) and president (1967) of the Southern Neurosurgical Society, president (1967) of the American Academy of Neurological Surgery, secretary-treasurer (1960-1965) and president (1970-1971) of the Society of Neurosurgical Surgeons, and president (1971-1972) of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. In addition, he has been member (1962-1964), secretary-treasurer (1964-1970), and president (1970-1972) of the American Board of Neurological Surgery; member (1964-1972) of the American Board of Medical Specialties, member (1964-1970) and chairman (1970-1972) of the Residency Review Committee for Neurological Surgery; chairman (1970-1971) of the Joint Council Subcommittee on Cerebrovascular Disease of the National Heart and Lung Institute, and the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke; Member (1968-1971) of the National Advisory Neurological Diseases and Stroke Council of the National Institutes of Health; and a member of, or consultant to, many other national, regional, and local medical groups. In 1968, Dr. Odom and Dr. C. Hunter Shelden visited 20 British neurosurgical training centers for the American Board of Neurological Surgery to assess the possibilities of establishing resident exchanges.
One would think from this list that Dr. Odom would have had to desert his own patients and residents to fulfill his national obligations. On the contrary, with thoughtful timing of trips, skillful juggling of airline arrangements, and frequent telephone calls back to Durham, Dr. Odom has been able to minimize his absences. This has been just as well, from his residents' standpoint, because these trips have always been followed by a transient surge of activity, with an increase in Dr. Odom's already over-loaded schedule.
Dr. Odom has been honored by the Neurosurgeon Award of the American Academy of Neurological Surgery (1972) and the Distinguished Service Award of the American Board of Neurological Surgery (1972) and by his selection as the Semmes Lecturer of the Southern Neurosurgical Society (1974). In 1964, his residents met in Durham to pay him tribute; in 1972 the former Duke residents met again to form the Odom-Woodhall Legion, adopting the owl as the emblem of the group, and planning meetings every 2 or 3 years. In 1973, the book, Neurological Classics (2), was dedicated to him.
By his example, Dr. Odom has taught his residents concern not only for their patients but for their colleagues, assistants, and families as well. Much of what he has written has been designed to be of help to general practitioners of medicine, the hard-working individuals that he has admired from the time of his boyhood. He has taught some of the sons and daughters of the Durham medical community, and in turn, his son Guy Leary Odom, Jr., M.D., was taught by some of the members of these same medical families during his years as a student at the Duke University School of Medicine. In addition, Dr. Odom's home has always been a home-away-from-home for the sons and daughters of colleagues and friends attending Duke as undergraduates. As an index of the loyalty that his personality has evoked in others, Dr. Odom's secretary, Miss Beth Toms, and his laboratory technician, Mrs. Helen Johns, have each been with him since 1945.
Throughout his professional life, Dr. Odom has continued to maintain unusually close family ties. When his children were growing up, he purposely did not take up golf or other activities that might distract him from his family when he was home from the hospital. However, he has always enjoyed deep sea fishing, and many of his vacations have been spent with his brother and his sister, Mrs. Vada Reynolds, in New Orleans; these yearly fishing excursions with Charlie have continued in spite of a series of near-catastrophies in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1974, his son Guy, a general surgeon, lived with his wife Barbara and their two children in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. His daughter, Linda, a former nurse, is married to Dr. Wesley A. Cook, a staff neurosurgeon at Duke, and they and their three children live near Durham. His daughter, Carolyn, is married to a naval architect, Terry Little; they and their three children lived in Corpus Christi, Texas. Dr. Odom married Mataline Nye Council in 1967, adding her three children and now her five grandchildren to his close family circle.
In recent years, Mataline and Guy Odom have come to enjoy a brief respite each evening from their hectic activities, relaxing in their beautiful family room. At these times, Dr. Odom, usually working on a needlepoint or macrame design, seems anything but the forceful leader he is. And then comes the succession of telephone calls ....
1. Wilkins, R. H. Barnes Woodhall, M.D.: A biographical sketch. Clin. Neurosurg., 18: xvii-xx,
2. Wilkins, R. H., and Brody, I.A. Neurological Classics, 204 pp. Johnson Reprint Corporation,
New York, 1973.