Plastic surgery pioneer D. Ralph Millard Jr., MD, dies at age 92

by Jim Leonardo
06/20/2011 at 10:00AM
Dr. Millard and his sons

Dr. Millard with his sons Bond (left) and Duke in 2009

Plastic surgery pioneer D. Ralph Millard Jr., MD, passed away peacefully in Miami on Sunday, June 19, 2011, at age 92. Dr. Millard, the 1970-72 PSF president, is renowned for many plastic surgery innovations – chief among them the revolutionary rotation-advancement procedure for cleft lip repair, and for advocating and popularizing the submental incision for lipectomy, which is now a standard part of the facelift. Dr. Millard also is known for training nearly 200 plastic surgeons, including many future leaders of ASPS.

Dr. Millard is survived by sons Duke and Bond, and by daughter Meleney Millard Moore, as well as six grandchildren. Information on visitation and funeral services can be found at www.millardsociety.org/funeral.html.

After earning his medical degree at Harvard Medical School in 1944 and interning in pediatric surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Millard joined the U.S. Navy, where he served as a Lieutenant Junior Grade and plastic surgeon during World War II. Subsequent to the war, he traveled to England in order to train with Sir Harold Gillies, MD – widely considered the father of modern plastic surgery –with whom he co-authored the acclaimed The Principles and Art of Plastic Surgery in 1952.

While attached as Chief Plastic Surgeon to the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War, Dr. Millard revolutionized treatment of cleft lip and palate. Stationed in Korea, he encountered a number of babies with clefts. He asked a military photographer to take photos of the children, and Dr. Millard would study the images by lamplight in his tent at night. It was while viewing the images from different angles that he developed the rotation-advancement procedure for cleft lip repair. He performed the first such procedure during the war, and it is now used worldwide.

Throughout the course of his career, Dr. Millard became the only American to present the Gillies’ Gold Medal Lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons (London, 1971), and he was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize (science) for Cleft Craft: the Evolution of its Surgery: I – The Unilateral Deformity, 1976, and Principlization of Plastic Surgery, 1987. Recognized globally for his contributions, Dr. Millard received The National Honor Decoration – Order of Distinction by the government of Jamaica, 1976; Honorary Medal from The People’s Republic of China for cleft lip surgery, 1988; and named an Honorary member of Japan Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, 1988. He was also awarded the ASPS Special Honorary Citation in 1988; and was named one of “The 10 Plastic Surgeons of the Millennium” by the Society in 2000.

Paul Howard, MD, who trained under Dr. Millard at the University of Miami in 1984-85 and belongs to the D. Ralph Millard Jr., MD, Plastic Surgery Society & Education Foundation, notes that Dr. Millard “trained more than 180 young, and not-so-young, men and women in whom his legacy is entrusted. The ‘Chief,’ as he was known to his residents at the University of Miami, was an exacting task master, an elegant surgeon and a consummate teacher. His surgical greatness cannot be denied, but his most profound legacy may be as a teacher of plastic surgery. Having trained so many of us, his passing on Father’s Day is appropriately coincidental.”

In a column printed by Plastic Surgery News in 2009, Dr. Millard left plastic surgeons with this piece of advice: “Learn the principles of plastic surgery – and follow them closely.” 

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