The Minnesota medical community is mourning the loss of Dr. John Patrick "Jack" Delaney, a St. Paul native who stumbled into medicine and developed into an accomplished surgeon, researcher and educator at the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center during its heyday.
Delaney died Nov. 20 from kidney failure and congestive heart disease. He was 89.
Delaney was the eldest of six children and stepped into the role of family leader at a young age while his father, Pat Delaney, delved in politics and ran his bar in St. Paul "373 steps from the county jail," as the sign reminded patrons.
St. Luke's Catholic parish focused Jack Delaney's attentions on ethics and high standards that served him throughout his life, and he remained a devout Catholic to the end, family members said.
After graduating from St. Thomas Academy, he attended the University of Notre Dame, where he foundered for a bit before he was "swept up by the enthusiasm of my classmates about going to medical school … but it wasn't a real clean-cut decision," he said in a 2012 oral history interview for the U's health center. His fascination with medicine stuck, and he went on to earn his M.D. from the U's Medical School before completing two doctoral degrees.
Delaney attended medical school when Dr. Owen Wangensteen was chief of surgery. Wangensteen pioneered the concept of the "academic surgeon," where surgical residents spent time at the lab bench. Delaney liked research and continued to run a lab for a dozen years after he quit surgery work at the age of 70, said his brother Pat Delaney.
Jack Delaney started out as a general surgeon at a time when that meant doing everything from open-heart operations under the supervision of famed Dr. C. Walton Lillehei to colectomies. He gradually began to focus on gastrointestinal surgery, then later on endocrine and breast surgeries.
After he gave a lecture on breast surgery, he was tagged as a specialist and doctors began referring more patients to him. "So I ended up with that kind of thing almost by accident," Jack Delaney once said.
He credited Dr. Todd Tuttle, a surgical oncologist, with persuading U administrators to start a breast clinic. His advocacy of conservative approaches to treatment helped promote the sentinel node biopsy and lumpectomy procedures for breast resections, both of which are now widely used, Pat Delaney said. He said his brother would never trumpet his accomplishments.
"He hated praise. He brushed it aside," said his eldest daughter, Sheila Delaney Maroney.
She said the day her father died, he wrote that although he had received numerous awards, tributes and accolades, "my most treasured document was my wedding license to Mary (Puddy) Dolan in 1960." Maroney said her dad would credit his many accomplishments to the support of his wife of 59 years.
Jim Delaney, the youngest of the couple's six children, wrote a eulogy describing his dad as a calm and patient guide. He said rather than answer his children's questions directly, he taught them to find the answers themselves. He also taught them about ethics by the way he lived.
Once, when they were hitting a bucket of balls on the driving range before playing a round of golf, Jim Delaney said he noticed that some of the balls appeared to be new and suggested that his father take them out to play.
"Without looking up or stopping or skipping a beat, he simply said, 'They're not mine,' and kept up his practice," his son wrote.
Jack Delaney's funeral mass will be held at 3 p.m. Friday at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.