Remembering Henry Banks, Former Dean of the School of Medicine

Banks was president of the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery and trained hundreds of surgeons, but he was especially passionate about his volunteer work with disabled children

Orthopedic surgeon Henry H. Banks, M45, who led Tufts University School of Medicine from 1983 to 1990 as its 14th dean, died on May 13, 2023. He was 102 years old.

Early in his tenure, Banks oversaw the construction of what is now the Medical Education Building at 145 Harrison Avenue. Along with a library, classroom space, and auditoria, it boasted the latest in computers and telecommunications. With the state-of-the-art facility, “we have the opportunity to make a quantum leap forward,” Banks said at the time.

One of the venue’s first roles was to host an international symposium on health that was hailed as the first live university conference across the world, reaching physicians in China. In addition, Banks created four new professorships, introduced the MD/MPH program, and increased the endowment from $3 million to $20 million.

In a video celebrating Banks’ centennial in 2021, Sol Gittleman, who served as provost during Banks’ tenure as dean, hailed him as “understanding, compassionate, capable, and reasonable.”

“You had everything that was required: the emotional intelligence, and the understanding and affection and admiration of anybody who worked with you,” Gittleman said in addressing Banks in the video.

The late Harris Berman, who served as dean from 2009 to 2019, noted in the video that he always welcomed Banks’ advice on being a medical school leader, and appreciated Banks’ skills as a teacher and doctor. “You were a wonderful physician,” Berman said, “one who I was happy to send my family to.”

Banks received a B.A. from Harvard University and an accelerated medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine in 1945 before joining the war effort as a U.S. Army Medical Corps officer from 1946-1947. After returning to Harvard to complete his orthopedic training, he then spent 17 years as a full-time faculty member at the Brigham Hospital and Children's Hospital Medical Center.

He returned to the School of Medicine as a professor of orthopedic surgery in 1969, tasked with assessing the future of orthopedics at the school. The resulting department he created, and which he chaired until 1984, earned an international reputation.

“Patients traveled far and wide to have the benefit of my father’s care, yet he was never overly impressed with himself,” said his daughter, Betsy Banks Epstein. “He believed in the foundation of family and the importance of your good name, your reputation.”

Charles Cassidy, the current Henry H. Banks Professor and Chair of Orthopaedic Surgery and Professor at the School of Medicine, estimated that Banks directly or indirectly helped to train more than 250 orthopedic surgeons, including ones who would become department chairs at Columbia University, Duke University, and Dartmouth College.

At the School of Medicine, Banks served as the senior associate dean for medical affairs and associate dean for hospital affairs before being named as interim dean in 1983. After stepping down as dean in 1990, Tufts never left his mind, as he found time to write the book A Century of Excellence: The History of Tufts University School of Medicine, 1893-1993.

He served as president and executive director of the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery and was a vice president of the American Orthopedic Association. He was also a president of the American Academy of Cerebral Palsy.

“My father believed in practicing the art of medicine. Many times during my childhood, he gave up a quiet Sunday to dash to the hospital to tend to an ailing patient or to check on friends or relatives confined to bed. He was completely available to reassure, diagnose, or offer advice,” said Banks Epstein.

Banks always credited his wife, Judith, with encouraging him throughout his career, saying that her love, wisdom, and support sustained him and their family. She was a dedicated volunteer at the hospitals where he worked, and at 98 years old, she is still a force of nature, said Banks Epstein. For that reason, a scholarship fund at the School of Medicine carries both of their names: the Judith R. and Henry H. Banks MD Scholarship Fund.

He was the director of orthopedic surgery and chairman of the Surgical Service at Boston City Hospital, as well as a consultant for other Boston-area hospitals. But he was especially passionate about the volunteer work he did at the Barnstable County Handicapped Children’s Clinic in Pocasset, Massachusetts.

“There is nothing more exciting than helping a child or adult get well,” he wrote in a Dean’s Rounds 1988. “There is nothing more satisfying than helping a child overcome a disability and then, when that child becomes an adult, treat his or her offspring.”

When fiscal constraints led all but one of the state’s clinics for disabled children to close, Banks was incredulous. “How can a state of our caliber and resources abandon these children?” he wrote.

“Medicine resembles the ministry,” he said in a 1989 lecture. “It commits us to the care of patients regardless of their ability to pay. Yes, we do have bills to pay. Yes, we are saddled with horrendous malpractice insurance bills. But we must prove to the public that we are committed to the care of our fellow man, regardless of the ability to pay.”

Back to Top