Dr. Sullins G. Sullivan, 89, chief of surgery at St. Joseph Hospital

July 27, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. Sullins G. Sullivan, a retired Baltimore physician who had been chief of surgery at St. Joseph Hospital and was a combat surgeon in Europe during World War II, died of heart failure July 20 at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 89.

Dr. Sullivan was born and raised in Stonewall, Okla., the son of Dr. B.F. Sullivan, also a physician.

"He rode on horseback with his father out through Indian territory when he went to treat the Osage Indians," said his daughter-in-law, Carol Primrose Sullivan of Kent Island.

After graduating from high school in Barnsdale, Okla., he attended the University of Oklahoma in 1929. After two years of pre-med studies, he was accepted into the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine. He graduated from there in 1935.

After graduation, he came to Baltimore and interned at the former St. Joseph Hospital on Caroline Street from 1935 to 1936, studying internal medicine. He later completed a surgical residency at the hospital. After completing a second residency in surgery at Bon Secours Hospital in 1940, he began practicing medicine in an office at 1128 St. Paul St.

In 1942, he entered the Army Medical Corps and served with the 305th Station Hospital and the First Auxiliary Surgical Group in Europe.

As a frontline surgeon, he was witness to some of the worst carnage of the war, including the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. His Army surgical unit also accompanied the first soldiers who liberated Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945.

"He just considered it a job that was required of him, and he went in and just did it," said John G. Sullivan, a nephew who lives in Norman, Okla.

Dr. Sullivan also visited Berchtesgaden at the end of the war, where Adolf Hitler had a mountain retreat, and took a knife from Hitler's kitchen as a souvenir that he later gave away, family members said.

After being discharged as a captain, he returned to Baltimore, where he resumed his private practice, joining two other physicians in offices at 1129 St. Paul St., where he remained until he retired in 2000.

In 1955, he was named chief of surgery at Bon Secours Hospital, a position he held until 1975. He also had staff privileges at Church Home and Hospital and Harford Memorial, Maryland General and St. Agnes hospitals.

From 1951 until 1984, he was deputy chief physician for the Baltimore Police Department, and held the rank of captain.

He was appointed chief of surgery at St. Joseph Hospital in Towson, now St. Joseph Medical Center, in 1976 and was co-director of the surgical residency program until he retired from the hospital in 1983.

A small, trim man whose face was highlighted by gold rimless glasses, Dr. Sullivan favored conservative, custom-made suits and tweed motoring caps.

He earned a reputation among his peers, residents and interns for being a precise and fast surgeon.

"He was always called `The Chief' because when he met you, he clicked his heels and saluted," said Dr. Sami Brahim, a pulmonologist. "He'd sometimes be delayed coming to the operating room, and if anyone mentioned his tardiness, he'd say, `It doesn't matter what time I start, it only matters how soon I finish.'"

"He was a very funny man with a dry sense of humor. On seeing a new patient, he'd crook his hand and make it look withered and then would go to their room. He'd say, `Hi, I'm your surgeon and I'm going to operate on you,' and for a moment, they'd wonder what was going on. Actually, his patients were always very pleased with him. They absolutely loved him," said Dr. Brahim.

He also was known for his generosity toward those in need, performing free surgical procedures for them, family members said.

Almost until the end of his life, Dr. Sullivan continued to attend grand rounds at Johns Hopkins and St. Joseph hospitals.

"He came to our grand rounds religiously every Saturday. He was always interested in new advances and our cases," said Dr. John L. Cameron, chief of surgery at Hopkins.

"He was a man of few words, and if you talked to Sully, you'd have to do the talking. He was a modest man, a fine human being with solid Midwestern qualities," he said.

Both men shared an interest in Porsches, the German sports cars. Dr. Sullivan enjoyed owning, working on, and driving his two black Porsches, a 1997 Boxster and a 993 that dated from 1996.

"We talked two things: surgery and Porsches," said Dr. Cameron.

Dr. Sullivan was the oldest member of the Chesapeake Porsche Club.

"When he went to the hospital for the last time on June 20, he drove himself in his Porsche," said his daughter-in-law.

"He will be remembered as a kind man who was proud of his Oklahoma heritage and a physician who gave of himself to all who were in need," said his son, Thomas J. Sullivan of Kent Island.

Dr. Sullivan was married in 1937 to Alyce Thomas, a registered nurse, who died in 1995.

Services were held Wednesday.

In addition to his son and nephew, he is survived by a niece.

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