Surgeon ‘took on the most challenging’ cases
Dr. Edward Millar was an orthopedic surgeon who first came to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago as a medical student in the early 1940s, worked there for many years when staff doctors were volunteers and became the hospital’s first paid chief of staff in 1976.
The Northwest Side hospital focuses on a wide range of pediatric orthopedic conditions, including rare diseases and syndromes, and services are provided regardless of a family’s ability to pay. Millar helped add and expand programs and staff to reflect the changes in medical care of children in the late 1970s helped lead the construction of a new hospital, according to Dr. Peter Smith, who worked with Millar for about 20 years.
“He particularly took on the most challenging and complex cases from throughout the Midwest at the new hospital,” Smith said.
Millar, 99, died of natural causes Jan. 3 in Northbrook Inn in Northbrook, according to his daughter, Becky Millar. Since 1969, he and his wife, Dorothy, who survives him, lived on a 50-acre farm in Libertyville, where they raised their 10 children as well as horses, dogs and bees.
Millar was born in 1920 in Woodward, Alabama. After graduating from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, he went to medical school at Northwestern University. After graduating in 1945, he went into the Navy and served briefly in China.
At war’s end, he returned to Chicago. In medical school, he had met Dr. Harold Sofield, then Shriners’ chief of staff. He completed a residency that included time at Shriners in 1947 and began working at the hospital as an attending physician in 1950.
Millar succeeded Sofield as chief of surgery in 1965 and in 1976 became the first full-time paid chief of staff.
In addition to his work at Shriners, Millar maintained an active private practice in general orthopedic surgery, working at Evanston Hospital, Swedish Covenant Hospital and Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital, west of Chicago.
“He was a relatively quiet man … but certainly was a determined individual,” said Dr. Kim Hammerberg, who met Millar in 1979 while in a residency program in pediatric orthopedics at Shriners. “His goal was to try to make Shriners Hospital available to any child or child’s family that needed orthopedic care.”
Hammerberg said under Millar’s leadership, programs in cleft lip and palate treatment were developed, along with a rehabilitation program for spinal cord injuries in children.
Biomedical engineer Gerald Harris met Millar in 1981 when he proposed a research program studying spasticity — muscle tightness and rigidity — and treatment effects in children and young adults with cerebral palsy.
“Dr. Millar was a huge factor in that … and was amazingly empowering for people interested in helping those kids,” said Harris, now director of the Center for Motion Analysis at Shriners in Chicago.
Harris said the program included weekly conferences that brought together surgeons from all over the city. Monday morning rounds included engineers, therapists, surgeons and residents, all focused on evaluating and implementing the best treatments to give children the best care possible.
“Dr. Millar was just an incredible individual who was able to bring people together, recognize their talents and strengths and recognize their passion for helping kids,” Harris said.
Hammerberg said Millar was an inspirational leader whose use of aphorisms could be triggered when he thought someone needed to step up or make a decision. If a subordinate became too independent, Millar would remind him or her, “Around here, the tail don’t wag the dog, doc-y.”
He would also remind others when a decision was needed, it was time “to quit cutting bait and start to fish.”
In a Shriners special publication marking the Chicago hospital’s 90th anniversary in 2016, Millar talked about his approach to the mission.
“We take a personal interest in each child who comes here,” he said then. “Their problems are our problems. Through surgery, medications, therapy, or whatever means we know, we want every child’s life to be the best it can possibly be.”
Becky Millar said her Dad was clear about his devotion to his young patients.
“He absolutely loved working with the children,” she said. “He loved everything about Shriners — that was his life.”
In addition to his wife and daughter, Millar is also survived by three other daughters, Delse Millar Busse, Marcy Millar Falduto and Chris Millar Hogan; six sons, Randy, Bob, Rick, Tom, Wally and Ron; 27 grandchildren; and 19 great-grandchildren.
Services were held.
Dr. Edward Millar graduated in 1945 from medical school at Northwestern University.