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August 28, 2014

Obituary: Albert B. Ferguson

Albert Ferguson portraitThe founding chairman of the School of Medicine’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Albert B. Ferguson Jr., died Aug. 20, 2014, at the age of 95.

Freddie Fu, current chair of the department, remembered Ferguson as “a giant in the field. His impact is tremendous.”

Ferguson transformed a mere division into a full-fledged department, adding residency training and research labs.

“From that he was able to train so many good people that 50 of them became heads of departments in the United States and overseas,” Fu said.

His research, which advanced several orthopaedic medical procedures, was equally important, Fu added. “He was a great clinician, too,” having operated on and improved the lives of thousands.

Born June 10, 1919, in New York City, Ferguson graduated in 1943 from Harvard Medical School. Following a stint in the Marines, he trained in orthopaedic surgery at several Boston hospitals and was recruited by Pitt to become the Silver Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and department chair from 1953 until his retirement in 1986.

He retired to his home in Fox Chapel and a 300-acre tree farm in Somerset County.

Ferguson brought the Pitt department to international leadership and renown, creating its first orthopaedic research laboratory, now named for him. One of his own research foci was developing new treatments for dislocated hips in children. He began the department’s total joint replacement program in 1969, performing bone grafting and osteotomies for patellofemoral disease and knee osteoarthritis. He also created the novel “Pittsburgh nail” for the repair of hip fractures.

Ferguson founded the department’s sports medicine program, which has become known for research on knee injuries and concussions. He was a physician for Pitt sports as well as the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

Ferguson attends to Pirate Bill Mazeroski.

Ferguson attends to Pirate Bill Mazeroski.

He led several orthopaedic organizations and was honored abroad for his work, as well as nationally and in Pennsylvania by the American Orthopaedic Association. He also published his research widely and authored popular orthopaedic texts.

Fu compared Ferguson’s professional demeanor to UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, famed for his success in the 1970s and for his calm coaching style. “He could motivate people without raising his voice,” Fu said of Ferguson. “He would get the best people to the department and let them work, and provide the resources to make them successful.

“He is a surgeon among surgeons and a mentor to many people. Until the end he was a mentor to me. He kept in touch with many of his trainees, like myself.”

In fact, Fu said, Ferguson wrote him encouraging notes every few months.

He urged “everybody to do their best, to do the right thing and take care of things.”

It was a philosophy, Fu concluded, that was “simple but not simple. Many of us will never come close to what he did to help others be successful.”

Ferguson is survived by three sons, Sanford, Gary and Bruce; 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Memorial contributions are suggested to the University of Pittsburgh Albert Ferguson Orthopaedic Resident Education Fund at the Medical and Health Science Foundation, 3600 Forbes Ave., Suite 8084, Pittsburgh 15213.

—Marty Levine

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 1