Deceased September 4, 2012

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In Memory

David died in September after a long bout with prostate cancer. He had been a vascular surgeon and professor of surgery at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. After Amherst he went to medical school at the University of Rochester and completed his residency at UVM. He was an army surgeon during the Vietnam War.

After completing a vascular surgery fellowship at UCLA, he returned to Vermont. He pioneered advanced medical training for first responders, such as ambulance crews and firefighters, and established the system for emergency medical services that still serves northern New England. He was Vermont’s first board-certified vascular surgeon and a president of the New England Society of Vascular Surgery. For years he was an associate editor of the Journal of Trauma. After retirement he wrote a definitive history of surgery at the University of Vermont.

David and Suzanne were married in 1989. Life with David was never boring. “[An] adventure,” she says, “could be sailing, snorkeling, skiing, scuba diving, raising orchids or inoculating oak logs with shiitake mushroom spores.” Adds a former surgical resident: “He was larger than life, charismatic, driven, creative, surgically adept beyond words and inspiring to the point where you would follow him anywhere. David was the quintessential surgeons’ surgeon.”

John Griffith ’56 remembers when David decided to sail his boat alone to (from?) Block Island, R.I., through choppy water. Concerned, John and Herb Pasternak ’56 kept in contact by radio. When David arrived in the harbor, the first thing he said was that calling him so often interfered with his maneuvering. John last saw David two years ago when he and Suzanne stayed with the Griffiths on their way home to Vermont from Florida. The weather called for frost, and David hurried to his car to cover his beloved orchids and heritage tomato seedlings. They were fine the next day.

John says that David Pilcher was a kind man and a good friend.

Suzanne Pilcher and John Griffith ’56


Steve Unger: I knew Dr. Pilcher differently than possibly everyone else who may read this. 

I met Captain Pilcher one bright, sunny and typically hot day in 1967 in the less than desirable Vietnamese town of Duc Pho. He was the new company commander of our very elite and exceptionally small group known as the 48th Medical Detachment (KA). Our unit consisted of one surgeon (Dr. Pilcher), one anesthesiologist, one male nurse and three medics. That was our company.

We were a frontline group that was designed to be an immediate surgical operation for any wounded soldier. In most cases, an injured man could be on the operating table within 20 minutes, but our conditions weren't optimal. The operating room was just, unfortunately, a tent without any air conditioning, but the good news was we did have a fan. Dr. Pilcher had the idea one day of hanging a large block of ice, wrapped in burlap just in from of the fan, which we agreed was a brilliant idea. Well, the idea was great, but it didn't accomplish anything as the temperature didn't change.

We didn't have a continuous flow of patients, so Captain P asked me one day if I would like to accompany him to the village of Duc Pho and set up a MEDCAP (Medical Civilian Aid Program) program. I jumped at the opportunity to be involved. We loaded the jeep with standard supplies and off we went.

What began as a few locals stopping by for various treatment and minor surgeries grew rapidly. Soon the captain and I were treating 40-50 people every trip. I learned so much from him, and he learned to trust my work. While I could do debridements, etc., anything major was performed by the doctor, and I just closed up while he went on to others. The man never tired, and we would work for hours.

Some months later, we were relocated from Duc Pho to Chu Lai where we were attached to the second surgical hospital, a MASH (Mobil Army Surgical Hospital) unit. They had real operating rooms with air conditioning. I had the pleasure and honor of scrubbing for Dr. P, and while I was no longer allowed to do a number of procedures on my own, I cherished working alongside him. One time I brought the village chief in from the town of Chu Lai because he needed surgery on his arm. I turned to Dr. Pilcher for help, and he didn't hesitate. We didn't have the necessary permission to perform an elective procedure on a local, so we snuck him into an operating suite and got busy. The thought of Bob Hope's Christmas show going on at the time didn't cross my mind, yet the patient came first in the doctor's mind. The surgery was successful.

The last time I saw Dr. Pilcher was in 1970. He was taking a class (or classes) at UCLA and was able to get in touch with me while he was here. We had dinner with my parents who lived in Orange, California, and enjoyed rehashing some stories.

I contacted Dr. Pilcher probably half a dozen times after that, and we always had some great conversations. He sent me pictures of days gone by, and I sent him some I had. The last time we spoke he asked me to "call me Pilch, all my friends do." I told him that I was beyond honored, but if it was ok, I would prefer to call him Captain P or Dr. Pilcher. He laughed and said sure.

Sometime later I called to say hello, and his wife answered. I announced myself and mentioned my relationship with him, and she sadly told me that he had passed.

Prostate cancer, probably caused by the effects of Agent Orange took this amazing man's life. I am honored to have known him, and I will respect Dr. Pilcher and call him my friend for the rest of my days.