|Subject: bert McClelland, Surgeon who tried to save JFK
Dead at 89
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Date Posted: Saturday, September 14, 03:09:32pm
bert McClelland, surgeon who tried to save JFK and believed there was
a second shooter, dies at 89
By Marc Ramirez
2:11 PM on Sep 14, 2019
Inextricably linked to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, surgeon
Robert McClelland dutifully preserved the blood-soaked white dress
shirt he wore the day he tried to save the president's life in 1963.
For the rest of his life, the retired professor emeritus of UT
Southwestern's medical school also clung staunchly to a contentious
opinion forged firsthand: that one of the shots that had struck Kennedy
had come from the front, which would require the existence of a second
Robert Nelson McClelland, the lone dissenting voice among the
operating-room doctors who tried to save the president at Parkland
Memorial Hospital, died Tuesday of renal failure. He was 89.
A celebration of his life is set for 1 p.m. Monday at Highland Park
United Methodist Church's Cox Chapel, 3300 Mockingbird Lane in Dallas.
A skilled surgeon whose true passion was teaching, he's among the
luminaries whose images grace Parkland's walls today. In a note to
campus colleagues, Dr. William Turner of the campus's department of
surgery, called McClelland "the titan among those giants," saying the
institution had "lost one of its heroes."
An insatiably curious reader who doted on his seven grandchildren,
McClelland was a driving force in surgical education at UT Southwestern
for decades and oversaw the launch of its liver surgery program.
He was modest and unassuming despite his accomplishments and role in
history. But he also had an irreverent side, allowing his grandkids as
young children to watch the cheeky television show South Park with him,
to the occasional dismay of their parents.
"I would get angry," said daughter Alison McClelland of Dallas. "His
defense was that it was philosophical."
Robert McClelland was born Nov. 20, 1929, in Gilmer, the same East
Texas town that spawned musicians Don Henley and Johnny Mathis. His
intellect and curiosity were evident early, his passion for discovery
stoked by a chemistry set he got at age 11.
He graduated in 1947 as valedictorian of Gilmer High and, as the
grandson of a physician, was further inspired to pursue medicine
through the mentorship of two local physicians.
After studying at the University of Texas in Austin, he earned his
doctorate at the school's medical branch in Galveston in 1954. He spent
two years in Germany as a general medical officer for the U.S. Air
Force, then returned to Texas to begin residency at what is now UT
It was there that he would meet Connie Logan, a head nurse at Parkland
whom he'd noticed several times at church and finally got the nerve to
ask out. They married in May 1958 and settled in Highland Park, where
they raised three children.
He completed his residency in 1962 and joined the faculty at UT
Southwestern and Parkland, where the following year, that momentous
November day became forever tied to his life story.
He was 34 then, screening a film on hernia repair for hospital interns
and residents, when a colleague burst in and asked him to help operate
on the president of the United States.
As Kennedy lay wounded on the operating table in Trauma Room One,
McClelland assisted as surgeons Malcolm Perry and Charles Baxter
performed a tracheotomy in an attempt to save the president. For 10
minutes, he stood above Kennedy's head and stared at "that terrible
hole," as he put it, tackling his duty as instinctively as a fireman
slides down a pole.
But from his vantage point, one shot seemed to have come from the front
— which would mean Lee Harvey Oswald, whom McClelland would be called
to operate on just two days later, wasn't the only gunman.
"The shot that killed [Kennedy] probably was from the back, but I have
to honestly say what I think," McLelland told The News.
The other four attending physicians would eventually pen a joint
article in The Journal of the American Medical Association concluding
there were two shots, from the back and above. The journal's editor
noted McClelland's differing opinion, emphasizing, however, that he
wasn't an "expert in forensic pathology and ballistic wounds."
McClelland never wavered, and a scene from Oliver Stone's JFK depicts
him offering his dissenting opinion in court, which McClelland said
never actually happened. However, he did once act as a juror in a 2013
mock trial giving Oswald his chance in the courtroom. (The trial ended
in a hung jury, with the vote 9-3 in favor of a guilty verdict.)
McClelland would go on to spend his entire career at UT Southwestern,
where generations of students and residents knew him as "Dr. Mac" and
called him for years afterward seeking advice about difficult cases.
In 1974, he launched the medical journal Selected Readings in General
Surgery after requests from former residents for copies of papers
discussed in a journal club he'd started. The club eventually became a
Saturday morning event, led by McClelland, for the school's surgery
department, with the compilations earning national and worldwide
subscribers as they covered the entire field of general surgery.
A prodigious reader, he consumed history books and subscribed to dozens
of medical journals.
"He was a very sharp man," said Scot Sandlin, who with others
occasionally met McClelland in his later years for breakfast gatherings
at the Flying Fish at Preston Center. "A very factual kind of guy."
McClelland's grandson, William Yoste of Oxford, Miss., with whom he
would go to movies and enjoy Goff's Hamburgers, recalled the tales
"Pop" would tell him as a child before he went to sleep.
"Instead of reading me bedtime stories about the rabbit and the hare,
he would tell me about growing up in Gilmer, or coming to Dallas before
it was anything," Yoste said. "Everything he said to anybody just left
you wanting more, hoping that when one story ended another would
McClelland adored his hundreds of books more than any other material
"When we moved him, his only requirement was that he had to have a
place with bookcases in every room," said daughter Alison, whose
memories of her father as a child were of him behind a pile of journals
on his huge office desk, blaring classical music while flanked by his
Siamese cat, Bandit.
"We needed to have custom bookcases built. He would give anybody the
shirt off his back, but he would never loan out his books."
Until last weekend, McClelland had remained engaged, reading constantly
and asking a million questions about what his family members were up
to. Then things took a sudden turn.
By Tuesday afternoon a hospital bed had been wheeled in, around which
the family gathered, playing Mozart and screening South Park on the TV
in tribute. McClelland died peacefully that evening.
In addition to daughter Alison and grandson William, McClelland is
survived by his wife, Connie, of Dallas; son Chris McClelland and
daughter Julie Barrett of New York City; six grandchildren; and a
The family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Parkland
Surgical Society Robert N. McClelland Lectureship Fund at the
Southwestern Medical Foundation, 3889 Maple Ave., Suite 100, Dallas, TX
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