Skip to contents
In This Issue:
View photo gallery >>
Dr. Joseph Murray, who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1990 for his contributions to the field of human organ transplantation, passed away Nov. 26. He was 93.
A gifted surgeon, brilliant scientist and devoted teacher, Dr. Murray and his team completed the first-ever human organ transplant in 1954, helping to forge the path for a new field in medicine that has since saved countless lives.
“Throughout his career, Dr. Murray was driven by a desire to constantly find better ways to care for his patients, whether they were suffering from severe burns or kidney failure,” said BWH President Betsy Nabel, MD. “That was the spirit with which he and his colleagues conducted research and pushed the limits of science in hopes of finding a way to perform organ transplantation in the early 1950s.”
For nearly 20 years, Dr. Murray served as chief of plastic surgery in departments he founded at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (a predecessor hospital of BWH) and Children’s Hospital. He was well known not only for the first successful transplant between identical twins on Dec. 23, 1954, but also for other transplant milestones such as the first fraternal twin kidney transplant in 1959, and the first transplant between unrelated people in 1962.
With his team’s breakthroughs in organ transplantation, Dr. Murray opened the doors for hundreds of thousands of people to receive life-saving transplants. In addition, his research into immunosuppressive drugs has aided transplant recipients in countering organ rejection. Dr. Murray served as director of the Surgical Research Laboratory at Harvard Medical School for many years.
Aside from his pioneering transplantation work, Dr. Murray was an accomplished plastic surgeon, researcher and academic. He developed new approaches for facial reconstruction surgery, having establishing a joint craniofacial program between Children’s Hospital and the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.
As a Harvard Medical School faculty member, he trained physicians from around the world in transplantation and reconstructive surgery and served as a mentor to many BWH staff over the last half century.
“Dr. Murray’s contributions to organ transplantation, medicine and humanity cannot be overestimated,” said Stefan Tullius, MD, chief of Transplant Surgery. “His curiosity, dedication, persistence and, most importantly, his gentle and optimistic approach will serve as a model in continuing Dr. Murray’s mission.”
Dr. Murray retired from his hospital and teaching positions in 1986, but continued to be part of the fabric of this institution, attending events and presentations, including the recent Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 12.
“Dr. Murray was an inspirational leader, incredible mentor and a spectacular surgeon and physician,” said Michael Zinner, MD, chair of the Department of Surgery. “He helped pioneer an entirely new field for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize, but you would never know that when you spoke to him. He was a humble, gentle and spiritual man with tremendous insight into the human condition. He will be sorely missed by the thousands of patients he helped lead better lives and by those of us who were fortunate to have known him well during his rich life.”
Born in Milford, Mass., Dr. Murray graduated from Holy Cross College and received his MD from Harvard Medical School. During his internship at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, he was inducted into the Medical Corps of the United States Army in 1944. He served in the plastic surgery unit at the Valley Forge General Hospital, in Phoenixville, Pa. It was here that he developed his life-long passion for plastic surgery after working with patients with severe burns.
After his military service, Dr. Murray completed his surgical residency and joined the surgical staff at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and the Dental Service at Children’s Hospital as well as the Brigham Hospital and Harvard Medical School staff researching transplantation.
“He was a driven yet gentle soul, who gave so generously of himself; to his country, his patients, his colleagues, his students and his family,” said Rick Murray, son of Dr. Murray. “From his earliest days as a resident at the then Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, he considered the Brigham his home. This was the place that inspired his dreams, and fostered the innovative spirit that allowed my father and his colleagues to do the ground-breaking work that has touched the lives of so many.”
Dr. Murray is survived by his wife, Virginia “Bobby” Link, three sons, J. Link, Tom and Rick, daughters Virginia, Margaret and Katherine, and 18 grandchildren.
Services for Dr. Murray include a wake Nov. 30, 4–8 p.m., at Doherty Funeral Home in Wellesley, and a Mass on Dec. 1 at 11 a.m. at St. Paul Church in Wellesley, followed by a reception at 1 p.m. at the Wellesley Country Club. Information about a BWH memorial service will be forthcoming.