Dr. Scott J. Boley

(1927 - 2020)

from Dr. Burton Harris


Dr. Boley was a Charter Member of APSA.

Scott Boley, the grand old man of New York pediatric surgery, died peacefully after a brief illness due to complications of liver failure on January 6, 2020 at the age of 92. Sandra, his devoted wife of 70 years, was at his bedside.

Scott was born in Brooklyn, the son of an obstetrician. He recalled as a youngster accompanying his father on house calls in the doctor’s Buick. Scott attended prep school (“Brooklyn Poly”), was graduated cum laude from Wesleyan College in 1946, and received the Doctor of Medicine degree from Jefferson Medical College in 1949. Following internship he served in the U.S. Air Force and then returned to a surgical residency at the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn, within walking distance of his boyhood home. He completed training in 1956 and joined the attending staff as a general surgeon.  
 
As a young, soft-spoken (in those days) and available surgeon he was attractive to pediatricians, and their young patients became a significant part of his practice. One day a pediatrician referred a child with portal hypertension who needed a shunt, but Scott had to mention that the portacaval shunt done in those days carried a serious mortality risk for children. The pediatrician called Dr. Clatworthy at Columbus Children’s Hospital for another opinion. Dr. Clatworthy told the pediatrician about the new, safer mesocaval (“Clatworthy”) shunt, and also told him that one of Dr. Clatworthy’s trainees, Peter Kottmeier, was at the State University in Brooklyn. Taking that child to Kings County Hospital was how Scott met Peter, and they became lifelong friends and colleagues. For many years Scott was an integral part of the pediatric surgical service, attending weekly Grand Rounds and scrubbing with the residents, and “making Peter look good”.
 
Scott became known for many medical and surgical innovations, but his first was the modification of the Soave endorectal pullthrough for Hirschsprung’s disease. Franco Soave’s original procedure left the pulled-through segment of ganglionic bowel extending out past the anus, to be trimmed back in a second operation weeks later. Scott reasoned that a primary anastomosis was more feasible, and after long discussions with Kottmeier and the other attending surgeons, tried this for the first time in 1964. (As a third year medical student I was privileged to see this historic operation from behind a retractor, and decided to become a pediatric surgeon anyway). The operation was completed as planned and the patient had an uneventful recovery. The other local surgeons decided to incorporate this technique in their own practices, and the results were reported as a multi-institutional trial (J Pediatr Surg 3:258-62; April 1968). Years later when Prof. Soave visited Columbus Children’s he told me that he had started to do the primary anastomosis. For many years this operation was referred to as the Soave-Boley procedure, although time has blurred the eponyms.

Now a full-time convert to pediatric surgery, Dr. Boley was recruited to head a new service at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Hospital in 1967. He was in the founders’ group for the new Certificate of Special Competence, taking the initial examination in 1975. He and his colleagues, including long-time partners Sylvain Kleinhaus and Gerard Weinberger, found fertile ground at Einstein and their work evolved into the full-service Children’s Hospital at Montefiore.

Having found his voice, he became known to many APSA members as a popular, uninhibited discussant of controversial papers. There were two people – Scott Boley and Mark Ravitch – whom a young author never wanted to see waiting for the microphone. Scott was probably the more-feared because his discussions were often accompanied by Peanuts cartoons he had painstakingly modified for the occasion, and which he thought were hilarious. The cartoons were a magician’s distraction; he always found the flaw in the author’s logic and had no hesitancy pointing it out.
 
Scott became professor, emeritus in 2001, but that was just the start of another chapter. He kept his office and secretary, came to the hospital in a starched white shirt every day and became the elder statesman and eminence grisé of the service. He loved to scrub on difficult cases as first assistant with the young attendings and they welcomed his tutelage. He enjoyed the controversies at the weekly M&M, often filling in historical vignettes and explaining ‘how I do it’. He started informal teaching sessions with the medical students which added a dimension to their rotation; where else could they see a century of medicine in one sitting? And he was always willing to offer advice to his colleagues, whether they needed it or not. With a smile and a twinkle in his eye.

Medical school couldn’t have been all work and no play, because Scott and Sunny met on a blind date in Philadelphia, and married after graduation. Their marriage was a 70-year love affair. 

His new senior role gave them more time to pursue their other passions – fishing, and wood-turning.
He and Sunny were both world-class fishermen and travelled to Canada, South America, Russia and Australia pursuing the big ones that always got away. When not traveling he was in the wood shop in his basement, creating spectacular, artistic bowls from old-growth burls they had found and brought out of the forests. The Boley bowls were well-known to other wood craftsmen; they were worth thousands, but he never sold one because he didn’t want to skew the market. Scott and Sonny were true partners; they supported each other, did everything together, and were each other’s best friend.
 
Scott Boley was an American original. There’ll be no replacement. He was brilliant, kind, caring, and the guy you’d want in your foxhole when stuff hit the fan. He had an unprecedented career spanning 70 years and was still teaching at the time of his last illness. Scott Boley had a lasting effect on countless lives and on each institution he graced with his presence, and he leaves a giant legacy. His contributions to pediatric surgery outlive him and he will not soon be forgotten.