The Ochsner Health System History Book: The Founders

Learn more about the five Founding Fathers of Ochsner. 

Guy Caldwell

Guy Caldwell, MD

The first member of the Tulane faculty that Alton Ochsner confided in regarding a clinical group practice was Dr. Guy Alvin Caldwell. An orthopedic surgeon who had practiced at Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children in Shreveport and Shreveport’s Charity Hospital in the 1920s and 1930s, Caldwell came to Tulane as Chairman of the Division of Orthopedics in 1938.

A courtly Mississippian, Caldwell did his undergraduate work and first two years of medical school at the University of Mississippi and then headed east to Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. He did his internship and residency at Presbyterian Hospital in New York. Following this, he booked passage to France where he joined Presbyterian’s former Chief of Surgery at the American Red Cross Hospital No. 2 in Paris. Caldwell helped treat French war wounded from 1915 to 1917. When the United States entered the war in the spring of 1917, the medical staff of the Paris hospital was commissioned in the U.S. Army Reserve. Caldwell was named Adjutant of the Hospital.

Following the war, Caldwell mustered out at Fort McPherson, Georgia. While practicing in Atlanta, he made the acquaintance of Dr. Michael Hoke, who had conceived the idea of Shriners Crippled Children’s Hospitals. Caldwell moved to Shreveport to become Chief Surgeon at the new Shriners Hospital. He would remain in Shreveport for the next 16 years.

Alton Ochsner hired Caldwell for the vacant chair in Orthopedics in 1938, partly because the mustachioed surgeon shared his enthusiasm for establishing a group practice. Caldwell also had the best head for business management. His essential grasp of medical administration put the Clinic on sound footing in the early years. In the 1940s and 1950s, Caldwell was always heavily involved in the Clinic’s fiscal affairs, staff activities and labor relations.

Caldwell was nationally known for his work in Orthopedic organizations. During World War II, he served as a consultant to the Surgeon General of the Army. From 1941 to 1950, Caldwell served multiple terms as Secretary, and later President of the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery. In 1951, he was elected President of the American Academy of Surgeons.

Caldwell served as a director and trustee of the Alton Ochsner Medical Foundation and found time to write a book on the early history of Ochsner Clinic. He was a member of the American Medical Association’s Council on Medical Education and Hospitals, Chairman of the Advisory Council on Orthopedic Surgery of the American College of Surgeons, and a trustee of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.

Dr. Curtis Tyrone, one of the Clinic founders, paid special tribute to his colleague. Guy Caldwell, he said, “was the glue that held us together.”

Guy Caldwell died in New Orleans in November 1981, three months shy of his 91st birthday. 

Edgar Burns

Edgar Burns, MD

By the 1930s, Dr. Edgar Burns was one of the best-known Urologists in the Gulf South region. A native of a small town in northern Alabama, Burns did his undergraduate work at the University of Mississippi and attended medical school at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

One of the founders of Ochsner Clinic, Burns came to New Orleans during the early 1920s to partner with Dr. Joseph Humes, an early pioneer in Urology in the city. By the late 1930s, Burns, like the other founders, was a department chair at Tulane Medical School. Alton Ochsner and Dr. Guy Caldwell had conceived the idea of a group practice, and the two immediately talked to Dr. Francis LeJeune Sr. and Burns about their interest in joining the practice. It was Burns who suggested bringing in Dr. Curtis Tyrone, the city’s most accomplished OB/GYN specialist, as a fifth founding partner.

“Al Ochsner and Guy Caldwell have asked me to join in a group,” Burns told Tyrone. “I told them I would consider it, but there is one condition. I won’t come unless you also invite Curtis Tyrone.”

Burns served as President of the American Board of Urology, the Clinical Society of Genitourinary Surgeons and the American Urological Society and was a member of the society’s Board of Examiners for 15 years. In 1964, he was awarded the American Urological Association’s Ramon Guiteras Award. Five years later, the American Association of Gastrourinary Surgeons honored him with the award of the Keyes Gold Medal.

Six feet four inches tall and always impeccably dressed with his trademark bow tie, Burns was an excellent golfer. He was, his daughter recalled, “a wonderful, loving, concerned, all encompassing father.”

Burns chaired the committee that put a Clinic succession plan into place. When Dr. Merrill Hines, the Clinic’s Medical Director, was injured in an automobile accident, Burns and his committee were responsible for selecting Dr. Frank Riddick as the Clinic’s Associate Medical Director, a decision that would stand the Clinic in good stead for many years into the future.

Dr. William Brannan, former head of the Ochsner Urology Department and a Burns hire in 1957, recalled that Burns “was well organized and ran a tight ship. He was a man of great integrity and well respected throughout the United States.”

Edgar Burns died in New Orleans of coronary disease at the age of 79 in 1973, just months shy of his announced retirement from his beloved Ochsner Clinic.

Francis Lejeune

Francis E. “Duke” LeJeune Sr., MD

Dr. Francis E. “Duke” LeJeune Sr. was the only Louisiana native among the five founders of Ochsner Clinic. Born in Lafourche Parish, LeJeune grew up in Thibodaux, the son of a sugar mill engineer. When he was 11, LeJeune moved to Puerto Rico with his family where his father spent three years as the manager of a sugar property near San Juan.

“That’s where Dad learned to speak Spanish,” explained his son, Dr. Francis “Duke” LeJeune Jr. “Since the family spoke French at home, he really didn’t learn English until he grew up.”

The family returned to Thibodaux in time for Francis LeJeune Sr. to attend school at Thibodaux College High School. He earned his Bachelor of Science Degree at Jefferson College in Convent, Louisiana, in 1914 and spent a year in the United States Army before enrolling in the College of Engineering at Tulane. After two years, LeJeune discovered that “calculus was not to his liking,” his son explained, and enrolled in Tulane Medical School. “His father told him that if he didn’t make it, he’d be going into the sugar mill.”

LeJeune earned his degree from Tulane in 1920, interned at Charity Hospital in 1920–1921 and did his residency the next year at the city’s prestigious Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital. He joined the practice of Dr. Clyde Lynch in 1922 and was in private practice in New Orleans from 1922–1942.

A pioneer in Otolaryngology, LeJeune was a respected professor of Otorhinolaryngology at Tulane in 1941 when Alton Ochsner approached him about joining a proposed group practice. Ochsner had met LeJeune more than a decade before when the ear, nose and throat specialist had performed mastoid surgery on two of Ochsner’s sons. “If you don’t come in,” Ochsner told LeJeune in 1941, “I’ll drop the matter.”

LeJeune did come in, and his expertise in Otolaryngology quickly gave the new Clinic a cachet of respectability in Louisiana medical circles. LeJeune and Alton Ochsner became the best of friends, as did their wives, Anna Lynne LeJeune and Isabel Ochsner. “Dad and Alton Ochsner loved to go fishing,” said Duke LeJeune Jr. “They would go tarpon fishing at the mouth of the river every spring. It was always a treat for us kids to go fishing with Dr. Ochsner, Dad and Mims Gage.”

Francis LeJeune Sr. saw the first two patients in Ochsner Clinic in January 1942. His reputation and skill were critical to laying the medical foundations of the Clinic as one of the preeminent healthcare facilities in the Gulf South region. Like the other founders, LeJeune paid a price for his decision to be a part of the first multi-specialty group practice in the South. “Until I went into the Clinic,” he once joked, “I didn’t have an enemy. Now, I’m an SOB.”

The second doctor in history to win all three ENT prizes, including the Casselberry, Newcomb and deRoaldes Awards, LeJeune died in New Orleans in October 1977 at the age of 83.

Curtis Tyrone

Curtis Tyrone, MD

Dr. Curtis Tyrone was the last of the founders of Ochsner Clinic to be brought aboard the fledgling organization. Edgar Burns told the other founders that he wouldn’t join the Clinic unless they extended an invitation to Tyrone.

One of the best-known OB/GYN specialists in the Mid-South at the time, Tyrone was also the youngest of the five founders. At the age of 27, he had been hired as an instructor of Clinical Obstetrics at Tulane in 1925.

A native of rural Mississippi, Tyrone grew up poor and intended to be a history professor when he got the chance to attend Mississippi College. Instead, he graduated from Tulane Medical School and interned at Touro Infirmary. Following his internship, Tyrone joined the well-established practice of Dr. Charles Jefferson Miller. When Miller died suddenly in 1936, Tyrone inherited the practice.

Tyrone’s charm and outgoing personality endeared him to his patients, who made him New Orleans’ most popular Obstetrician and Gynecologist in a community where word of mouth was everything when it came to physicians’ references. When Tyrone agreed to join the Clinic staff as a founder in 1941, he brought with him what was one of the city’s most lucrative practices.

“Dr. Tyrone used to say that the best referrals did not come from other physicians but from happy, satisfied female patients who were members of the bridge clubs,” explained Dr. George T. Schneider, whom Tyrone hired at Ochsner in 1949. In the more than 40 years he practiced medicine in New Orleans, Tyrone delivered thousands of babies. In later years, Tyrone took great pride in pointing out the young ladies he had delivered who served as that year’s queen or maids at the many Mardi Gras balls.

Tyrone was never as involved in medical societies as were his founder colleagues. “I’m no orator,” he frequently told associates. Instead, his passion was work. Tyrone frequently worked nights, and his work ethic more than once caused him to make threats to pull his practice out of the Clinic. He told colleagues before his death that he never regretted being a part of the growth of the Clinic and its reputation.

One surgeon who knew him described a Tyrone operation almost the way one would write a review of a play, calling the operation “a symphony, an artistic as well as an effective performance.” Curtis Tyrone died in New Orleans in July 1982 at the age of 84.

Alton Ochsner

Alton Ochsner, MD

Alton Ochsner was born in 1896 in Kimball, South Dakota to Edward Philip and Clara Leda Shontz Ochsner. Ochsner enters the University of South Dakota at Vermillion and then matriculates into the Washington University Medical School in St. Louis. In 1920, he graduates with an M.D. degree and begins training in internal medicine at Barnes Hospital, followed by a 16-month surgical residency under his uncle Dr. A. J. Ochsner.

Alton Ochsner trained for 2 years Germany and Switzerland and then developed a lucrative clinical practice in Chicago but left in 1926 to become assistant professor of surgery at the University of Wisconsin because of his interest in education and research.

Alton Ochsner arrived in New Orleans in 1927, barely past the age of 30, to assume the chairmanship of the Department of Surgery at Tulane. He became a pioneer in the field of thoracic surgery, which at the time was still in its infancy, and over his lifetime trained numerous surgeons, including the famed heart surgeon Michael DeBakey. 

The emphasis on teaching and research may seem unusual for a collection of community hospitals and clinics but this distinguishing feature is the lasting legacy of Dr. Alton Ochsner and four other surgeons who - along with 14 staff - opened The Ochsner Clinic, the first group medical practice in the Deep South, on January 2, 1942, in the midst of World War II.  All professors at Tulane University School of Medicine and destined to be distinguished practitioners in their fields, the founding partners well understood the importance of research and education. Two years after opening the Clinic, they also established the Alton Ochsner Medical Foundation.  In 1947, the Ochsner Foundation Hospital opened in a former Army post hospital and then in 1954 the 250-bed, 5-story Ochsner Foundation Hospital opened.

Dr. Ochsner was among the first to recognize the association between tobacco and lung cancer.  His interest in this relationship began serendipitously in his third year of medical school when he witnessed the autopsy of a patient with cancer of the lung, a rare condition at the time and one that he would not observe for another 17 years.  But when he encountered eight such cases in a period of six months shortly after arriving in New Orleans, he began to consider lung cancer almost as an epidemic and knew there had to be some direct cause for this affliction.  All the patients were men who smoked heavily and had begun smoking during the First World War. Prior to the war, cigarette consumption had been very low.

Alton Ochsner retired from surgery at age 70 as required by Clinic rules and before he did, he performed 7 operations on his last day as a clinic surgeon.  In 1967, he received the Distinguished Service Award of the American Medical Association for exceptional contributions to medicine.

Dr. Alton Ochsner passed away in 1981 at the age of 85.