To say that Dr. Brown was a remarkable man who devoted his life to the benefit of humanity would not begin to do justice to his legacy. He was a giant in the medical profession.
Dr. Brown was a triple board-certified thoracic surgeon licensed to practice in three states. He performed the world’s first successful thymus transplant and pioneered the development of video-assisted thoracic surgery. He also was a member of the medical team that performed the first kidney transplant. He founded the intensive care unit at Variety Children’s Hospital and served as chief of surgery. He gave decades of volunteer service to the Bahamas as a pediatric surgeon and an equal amount of time to the Diocese of Miami as surgeon to the drug abuse clinic. A University of Miami alumnus and a voluntary professor of surgery at the Miller School of Medicine, he served as a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy. He was also a devoted family man.
“My dad said that he may not have made a complete footprint during his lifetime, but at least he made a mark,” said Beth Brown- Gerrish, Dr. Brown’s youngest daughter. “His goal in life was to matter and make a difference in his community, in his city, in his state, in his country, in the world; and he achieved it all.”
Colleague Dr. John Adler, professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University School of Medicine and inventor of the CyberKnife Radiosurgical System, recently lamented Dr. Brown’s passing during a medical conference in California.
“Bill was a feisty, just-couldn’t-be-heldback kind of guy,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, he did more for the field of oncology than some of these big cancer centers. I’d like to salute Bill Brown and everything he stood for. I truly hope that we can abide by that spirit as we move forward.”
Dr. Brown’s book The Atlas of Video Assisted Thoracic Surgery was written to present the birth of video-assisted thoracic surgery.
“Instead of cutting open the chest, he would make an incision through the ribs and go through another area and operate (and videotaping) while looking at a television screen of the process,” said Brown-Gerrish. “He wrote the textbook and taught it around the world.”
Beyond the professional accolades was a man driven by love, family and the pursuit of excellence in medicine.
“He was just completely in love with my mom and his family and with being a physician for all the right reasons,” said Brown- Gerrish. “He had to be using his brain; he was on the cutting edge of everything right up until the day he died. He was truly in love with medicine and he was a good, kind soul.”
Dr. Brown’s wisdom knew no bounds and he also heeded the advice of his wife, Maureen. As his career expanded following his internship and residency at Northwestern University in Chicago, the Browns decided to move back to Miami where Dr. Brown was raised.
“My mom told him at the beginning of his career when he was working very hard that he was missing out on his kids growing up,” said Brown-Gerrish. “She said told him that he should spend more time with the family, and he did.”
Dr. Brown became active with the Boy Scouts and helped all three of his sons to eventually earn Eagle Scout badges. And then, Brown-Gerrish recalled, the sailing summers began. Every year, the family of two adults, six children and the family dog would set sail in a 35-foot Morgan headed for the Bahamas.
“We explored every single island over the years, roughing it with cans of ravioli and air-sealed bacon; it was incredible,” said Brown-Gerrish. “And we would go skiing in the winter. He also took us on trips all over the world. He once told me that he wanted to make sure that we had a chance to see the world if for some reason we could not afford to take the trips ourselves in the future.”
To future physicians, Brown-Gerrish said her father left the following advice:
“Take time to be with your patients and listen to them because they are human beings. Love what you do and don’t take it for granted, for it is an important profession. Be a doctor for the love of medicine and not for anything else.”
Dr. Brown is survived by his wife of 54 years, Maureen; children William, Timothy, Michael, Maureen, Kathleen and Elizabeth; and grandchildren William, Jennifer, Timothy, Kathryn, Matthew, Jewel, Kali and Thomas.