Elliot Chesler’s medical career spanned three continents as he became a respected and influential doctor and chief of the Cardiovascular Division of the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center for 22 years.
“He was loved by his staff and took exceptional, world-class care of his patients,” said Dr. Charles Gornick, a cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Gornick said the two became friends after Chesler recruited him to work at the VA.
Chesler died June 19 in San Antonio, where he moved to be close to family. He was 87.
Born and raised in South Africa, Chesler trained at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Scotland, and later at Miller Hospital in St. Paul where he did postdoctoral work under renowned cardiac pathologist Jesse Edwards. Chesler joined the cardiology department at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, working with Dr. Christiaan Barnard, who had recently performed the world’s first human heart transplant.
Chesler and his wife, Rosalind, known as Babs, immigrated to the United States in 1977. They lived in Edina.
Elizabeth Weir, a close friend, said the Cheslers, who were white, opposed apartheid, the system of racial segregation and white supremacy in South Africa. Both their sons were approaching Army age and faced conscription into the South African military, and the Cheslers decided to leave the country because they felt it was wrong for white soldiers to be fighting the black supporters of the African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela, Weir said.
“It was very painful,” recalls Weir. Rosalind Chesler “had to leave behind her mother, but they felt strongly they had to do this.”
One of their sons, Dr. Louis Chesler, a pediatric oncologist who lives in London, said both his parents had a progressive viewpoint. “Both were born in South Africa and were Jewish, and Jewish people in South Africa were very progressive and were not in general in support of apartheid,” he said.
At the time of his departure from South Africa, Elliot Chesler was chief of cardiology at Wentworth Hospital and taught medicine at the University of Natal, near Durban.
Dr. Ken Weir, a cardiologist and Elizabeth Weir’s husband, was a friend and colleague of Chesler’s. Weir grew up in Ireland, and was working with Chesler in South Africa. He joined Chesler at the Minneapolis VA and later succeeded him as chief of cardiology.
Weir said Chesler recruited cardiologists from around the world with a variety of expertise because heart patients with a range of problems were coming to the Minneapolis VA from all over the Midwest.
“He built a team and the team was centered on three things: research, education and clinical care,” said Dr. Ed McFalls, former chief of cardiology, now associate chief at the local VA. He said Chesler created “one of the top cardiology sections in the entire VA system.”
Chesler was also one of the primary teachers at the University of Minnesota cardiology fellowship program and was instrumental in educating the internal medicine residents.
Chesler authored a book, “Clinical Cardiology in the Elderly,” and edited the fourth and fifth editions of “Clinical Cardiology.”
In retirement, “He had a lot of fun driving my son to and from school and was interested in classical music,” said his other son, Alan Chesler, of San Antonio, who is in investment banking. “He challenged [his grandsons] to think for themselves and who they are. They are better off for having that.”
Chesler’s wife, Rosalind, died in 2015. Besides his sons, he is survived by a sister, Barbara Gavronsky of Johannesburg, South Africa. Services have been held.