George Woodard retires after 48 years in Baylor labs

George Woodard of the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery has seen many generations of residents and fellows become professors or enter private practice. He has even seen some of them retire. Woodard can take a measure of pride in their accomplishments, because he taught them how to scrub in, how to suture a valve and how to do a procedure just like Dr. DeBakey liked it.

“We had a good group of guys working here,” said Woodard, a research technician in the department. “There were long 16-hour work days, but you couldn’t get us to take off.”

Woodard has finally decided to “take off,” retiring from Baylor College of Medicine in June after nearly 48 years.

During his career at Baylor, which started in 1962, Woodard became a tremendous asset for faculty members doing research.

“Just name any of the groundbreaking surgical advances that have come out of Baylor’s surgery department since the 1970s to present,” said Deborah Taylor, assistant director of Baylor’s Simulation Center. “George was always there assisting at the operating room table.”

In the beginning he learned to do electron microscopy, and later, how to draw blood from research animals and care for them to help Dr. Robert O’Neal in pathology with his experiments about high-cholesterol diets. Then he began helping pioneering heart surgeon Dr. Michael E. DeBakey in research on animal models.

He scrubbed in and helped with open heart procedures in calves. “The surgeons did all the heart procedure, but we opened and closed the animal, and took care of them afterwards. There were no residents to help us, so we did all the work.” At the time the calves were housed in the fourth floor of Main Baylor, right where the Sim lab is located today.

Long working days were lightened up with humor, Woodard said, smiling as he recalls an anecdote with Dr. DeBakey. George was assisting DeBakey with an experimental surgery and DeBakey said, “Honey, I need suture.” Woodard did not move or respond. Polk Smith who also worked in the department said “George, he is talking to you.” Woodard replied, “Dr. DeBakey surely would not call me ’Honey.’ “I could see his eyes smiling above the mask,” said Woodard, laughing.

Upon his retirement from Baylor’s Simulation Center, Woodard reminisced about his major satisfactions. After a long day, “knowing that I did a good job, that the animal made it,” was very rewarding, he said.

Most of all, he will miss the people. “I am a people’s person,” he said, and, as strange as it may sound, “I kind of miss the holler of the old days when you made a mistake. It kept you sharp.”

Woodard will be missed. Taylor, who has worked with him for the last 20 years, will miss “his ready smile, sense of humor and his infinite patience.”

— This story was written by Ana Rodriguez of the department of surgery and originally appeared in the surgery newsletter.