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William Longmire, 89; UCLA Surgeon

May 23, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Dr. William P. Longmire Jr., founding chief of surgery of the UCLA School of Medicine in 1948 and an internationally respected surgeon, has died. He was 89.

Longmire died May 9 of natural causes at his Los Angeles home.

Only 34 when he came to Los Angeles to help build what is now the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Longmire specialized in innovative cardiac surgery and helped to move heart operations from miracle to commonplace.

As a resident at Johns Hopkins Medical School, he was on the first surgical team to successfully perform the "blue baby" operation. The groundbreaking procedure provided a normal life for infants born with a malformed heart that allowed blue blood from the veins to intermix with the red blood of the arteries.

Longmire also performed the first "blue baby" surgery in Berlin when he was sent there in 1950 with a team of American doctors to teach German physicians techniques developed during World War II. In later years, as a visiting professor he helped develop cardiac surgery throughout Europe.

Among Longmire's other imaginative operations was a microvascular procedure to replace an esophagus lost to cancer, and techniques that helped lead to heart bypass surgery.

Admired not only as a surgeon but also as a teacher, administrator and author, Longmire headed the UCLA surgery department until 1976 and took emeritus status in 1984. He helped to build the school's impressive reputation from its infancy by hiring top surgeons in specialties ranging from urology to plastic surgery and developing residency training at the UCLA, Harbor General and Wadsworth Veterans hospitals.

"UCLA's School of Medicine would not have the prominent reputation it enjoys today," said the school's dean, Dr. Gerald Levey, "were it not for the extraordinary contributions of Dr. William Longmire."

Longmire described the founding of the UCLA Medical School in his book "Starting From Scratch."

The surgeon, who wrote three other books, served as a regent and president of the American College of Surgeons and chairman of the American Board of Surgery. He was a consultant to the surgeons general of the Army and the Air Force and served under Ronald Reagan on the president's Cancer Panel.

Born the son of a doctor in Sapulpa, Okla., Longmire graduated from the University of Oklahoma and then Johns Hopkins. He took over his father's family medical practice for two years when his father became ill, and later earned induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

Longmire is survived by his wife of 63 years, Sarah Jane Cornelius; two daughters, Sarah Jane Longmire-Cook and Gil Longmire; and three grandchildren.

Services are pending. The family has asked that memorial donations be sent to the UCLA Foundation/Longmire Memorial, UCLA Medical Sciences, 10945 LeConte Ave., Suite 3132, Los Angeles, CA 90095.

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