NEWS | March 26, 2013

Earl Wolfman, first Department of Surgery chair, dies at 86


Earl Frank Wolfman, Jr., the first chair of the UC Davis Department of Surgery, died on March 3 in Elk Grove, Calif., at the age of 86.

Karina Chavez
Dr. Earl Wolfman

Dr. Wolman was born in Buffalo, New York in 1926. Shortly thereafter, his family moved to Detroit, where Dr. Wolfman spent his childhood years. He graduated from Royal Oak High School in 1944 and passed the qualifying exam for the US Navy's V12 program, which resulted in a scholarship to Harvard College.

Due to the urgency created by World War II, Dr. Wolfman completed the usual four- year curriculum in two years. After graduating in 1946, Dr. Wolfman enrolled in the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Following his first semester there, he married Lois Jeannette Walker, his high-school sweetheart, and they remained married until her passing in 2007.

Upon graduation from medical school in 1950, he remained at the University of Michigan for his internship and residency in general surgery. His training was interrupted during the Korean War when he was called to active duty. Upon discharge from the U.S. Navy, he completed his surgical residency, and accepted a faculty position at the medical school. While on the faculty, he excelled in clinical, research, and administrative duties.

Dr. Wolfman also became a close friend and colleague of C. John Tupper, who was recruited by UC Davis to be the founding dean of the medical school being proposed there. Dr. Wolfman accepted Dr. Tupper’s invitation to join him in the ambitious challenge of creating a new medical school.

In 1966, Dr. Wolfman and his family moved to Davis. Working out of a "temporary" building on the Davis campus, which contained only two offices, Drs. Woflman and Tupper began the daunting task of recruiting faculty, developing curriculum, designing and obtaining space, and attending to numerous other details.

In addition to serving as founding chair of the Department of Surgery, Dr. Wolfman also was the school’s associate dean. The medical school became his passion, his pride and joy, which continued for the remainder of his life. Following his retirement from the University in 1991, he remained involved in campus and medical center affairs and continued to serve on multiple committees.

He also became active in the California Medical Association, serving as a member of the board of trustees and working on many local and statewide initiatives.

Dr. Wolfman is survived by two daughters, Nancy Bacon and Carol Anne Edgar, both of Elk Grove; a son, David Earl, and his wife, Melinda, of Davis; a sister, Beverly Wier of Albuquerque, New Mexico; and six grandchildren.

Services were held on March 12. Donations to the Earl F. Wolfman, Jr., M.D., and Lois J. Wolfman Professorship in Surgery should be sent to the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, 4900 Broadway, Ste, 1150, Sacramento, CA 95820, or to the charity of choice. For the professorship, checks should be made payable to the UC Davis Foundation. For more information, call 916-734-9416.

The UC Davis School of Medicine is among the nation's leading medical schools, recognized for its research and primary-care programs. The school offers fully accredited master's degree programs in public health and in informatics, and its combined M.D.-Ph.D. program is training the next generation of physician-scientists to conduct high-impact research and translate discoveries into better clinical care. Along with being a recognized leader in medical research, the school is committed to serving underserved communities and advancing rural health. For more information, visit UC Davis School of Medicine at