Dr. Robert L. Goodale’s name graces a downtown Minneapolis theater that his donations helped to refurbish. But before he was an arts philanthropist, Goodale was a pioneering surgeon at the University of Minnesota who was instrumental in developing now commonplace noninvasive procedures that allow patients to return home the same day.
Goodale, who died of cancer at age 84 on July 17, was the founding director of the university’s Department of Endoscopy and helped to introduce laparoscopic technology to U.S. medicine. He joined the faculty in 1967 as the last appointee of noted Surgery Department head Dr. Owen Wangensteen before he retired.
Goodale’s groundbreaking research included an extended trip to Japan in 1978 to observe advances in noninvasive surgical technology.
“He set the standards and taught the rest of us,” said his colleague Dr. Henry Buchwald. “He was one of the people who popularized this kind of surgery not only in the Twin Cities but throughout the country.”
In 2003, a year after retiring, Goodale and his wife, Katherine, contributed $1 million to endow a chair for minimally invasive surgery at the university’s medical school. In 2004, he received the Harold S. Diehl Award, a prestigious lifetime honor. In 2012, he was named Surgical Alumnus of the Year.
Goodale was born in Cambridge, Mass., in 1930. He graduated from Princeton University and completed medical school at Columbia University in 1956. After three years at Boston City Hospital and two years in the U.S. Army, he came to the University of Minnesota, where he earned Ph.D.s in surgery and physiology before being named an instructor of surgery in 1967.
In addition to his medical pursuits, Goodale was a passionate supporter of and participant in various art forms. He and Katherine, a lifelong dance enthusiast, gave a total of $3.4 million to the Cowles Center to restore the former Shubert Theater that now bears their name. He served on the board of Ballet Arts Minnesota and traveled and performed with Link Vostok, a dance cultural-exchange program, in Russia. He played the trombone and the recorder, and was also an avid sailor.
Friends and colleagues recall his kindness, generosity and never-ending quest to learn new things.
Goodale was “the perfect gentleman, the epitome of being efficient and outstanding in his craft and gentle at the same time,” Buchwald said.
Marilee Johnson, a nurse who worked with Goodale throughout his time at the U, called him “the most compassionate physician I have ever known. He included me in all sorts of decisionmaking in a collegial way.”
Gloria Sewell, a friend and fellow dance philanthropist, said she was struck by his “creativity and lifelong love of learning, whether it was how to speak Russian and Japanese or a new musical instrument. The week before he died, he was drawing portraits of the people who worked in his hospice.”
In addition to his wife, Goodale is survived by two sisters; four children — Anne Esmonde of Berkeley, Calif.; Katherine Prendergast of Stillwater; Margaret Mason of Medina, and Robert L. Goodale III of Minneapolis — and five grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis.