Lawrence Lamar Hester, Jr.

Lawrence Lamar Hester, Jr.


Dr. Lawrence Hester was born in Anderson, SC in 1920. He attended The Citadel in Charleston, where he graduated with a B. S. degree in 1941. He was an AOA graduate of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in 1944. After an internship and ob-gyn residency at Roper Hospital in Charleston, he served in the US Army as Section Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama.

In 1947, he returned to MUSC as the only full-time faculty member in the ob-gyn department. In 1956, at age 36, he became the youngest departmental chairman in the country. He faced the daunting tasks of building a department, addressing deficiencies in the teaching program, training obstetrician-gynecologists for an underserved state, and improving substandard maternal and fetal outcomes.

As chairman, financial constraints made recruitment quite difficult. Recognizing the need for faculty with special expertise, he hand-picked promising residents, fostered an academic bent, and arranged for them to pursue post-residency training in the then-unrecognized subspecialties. This avant-garde approach enabled the department to be among the first to have board-certified subspecialists in gynecologic oncology, reproductive endocrinology and infertility, and maternal-fetal medicine.

Dr. Hester instituted a program of intense teaching for medical students, interns, and residents. After only one year, the National Board scores for the students went from the bottom 10th percentile to above the national average. Noting this remarkable turn-around, the Dean embraced his teaching philosophy and adopted it school-wide; soon, similar strides were realized in most departments.

Though he increased the size of the residency program, he could not meet the state's demand for ob-gyn physicians. Unlicensed midwives contributed to an exceptionally high perinatal morbidity and mortality. He was instrumental in setting new state-wide standards for the care of pregnant women. Unlicensed midwives were eliminated. He filled the gap by providing rotations for family medicine residents and by starting a certified nurse midwifery program in the department. He had realized the success of physician-extenders while on sabbatical in England. He addressed the state's high prevalence of cervical cancer by training specialized nurses, who traveled around the state to provide Pap smear screening.

He soon realized that poverty and poor obstetrical outcome are a product of unplanned pregnancies. Supported by various state and county health department agencies, he created a system of county-wide family planning clinics which were staffed by moon-lighting resident physicians. At one time, there were 10,000 patients enrolled in these clinics. Not surprisingly, perinatal statistics improved as this program reached maturity.

He quietly created a nationally recognized department at MUSC. Though somewhat shy and retiring, he was a natural leader and visionary with an extraordinary eye for talent. He instilled immeasurable confidence as he nurtured so many careers; he set the bar high and enabled young physicians to reach well beyond their dreams.

At a personal level, he soon attained national prominence. He was an ABOG oral examiner for 20 years and a member of the Board of Directors for 8 years. He served on the RRC and was chairman of the Section on Obstetrics and Gynecology. He was on the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Medicine and the ACOG Council of Medical Specialty Societies. He was a special advisor on population control for the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. He was a member of 25 societies, including the American Gynecological and Obstetrical Society, the American Gynecological Club, and the South Atlantic Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. His presidential address to the South Atlantic Association not surprisingly was entitled "The Pursuit of Excellence." In 1980, he was presented a Doctor of Science Honorary Degree from the Citadel and, in 1986, the Order of the Palmetto for his many years of service to the Florence Crittenton Home.

A Civil War buff, he read widely on many of the principals of that conflict ... especially Jackson and Lee. Calhoun also held a special interest. However, it was his family who received most of his attention when away from medicine. His wife, the former Bette Catling of Baltimore, furthered his interest in nature, and he often enjoyed a day in the field for bird and duck hunting. He loved the company of his four grown children and the many grandchildren and traveled widely to see them on a regular basis. In retirement, he particularly enjoyed tennis with his new friends in the mountains of North Carolina.

In 1982, friends and colleagues established the J. Marion Sims-Lawrence L. Hester Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He proudly occupied this chair until his retirement in 1984. At that time, he had been chairman longer than any other active chair.

With his death on May 10, 2006, this society and our specialty lost a giant in the field and a friend and colleague to many. He frankly subjugated his own career to that of others. Many members of this society are testimony to that fact. He made us better than we would have been. What a legacy!

Written by J Peter VanDorsten, M.D.

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