On Friday, the Surgery Department celebrated with Dr. Colin G. Thomas, Jr. on the 95th anniversary of his birthday. Dr. Thomas was chairman of UNC's Department of Surgery for 18 years and was one of the first faculty members on staff when N.C. Memorial Hospital opened in 1952.
Dr. Thomas turned 95 on Thursday. "95 is a good figure," said Dr. Thomas.
Appointed as the second member of the surgery faculty in 1952, Dr. Thomas would go on to become the second Chairman of the department in 1966, leading the Department of Surgery until 1984 when he passed the role on to Dr. George Sheldon. Dr. Thomas maintains an active role in the department, attending to correspondence, consultations, and the guidance of junior surgeons on a part-time basis.
“The humbling part is not just that he’s here, but that he’s still teaching people about medicine and medical science,” said Dr. Anthony Meyer, the current chair of surgery.
Thomas came to UNC from the faculty of the University of Iowa, where he also did his general surgery residency under Dr. Nathan A. Womack, the doctor who would become the first Chair of Surgery at UNC. Womack would later invite Dr. Thomas to come take a look at UNC.
“It was December 11, 1951,” Dr. Thomas recalled with ease. “My plane stopped over in Richmond, and at Richmond, everyone else got off the plane. I thought that was interesting,” he laughed. Thomas remembered taking a gravel road to get from the airport to the hospital when he arrived in Chapel Hill, and having to walk up a plank of wood to enter into the then-unfinished hospital.
Dr. Thomas has served on the faculty at UNC since April 1, 1952, even before the hospital actually opened.
"It’s fascinating that one person can be at UNC from the time before N.C. Memorial Hospital opened to today,” Dr. Meyer said.
“It’s very rewarding to be part of all this,” Dr. Thomas said of his time at UNC. He offered this sage advice: “Take advantage of the opportunities that are here.”