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Professor Cope Dead at 91


Oliver Cope '23, M.D., a Harvard Medical School professor of surgery emeritus, died last Saturday of natural causes one day after his wife's death, according to the University. He was 91.

He was the first chief of staff of the Shriners Burns Institute and served on the staff of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) for more than 65 years.

In his long and distinguished career, he wrote six books and published almost 200 articles in medical journals. A Harvard news release described him as skilled teacher and an expert in experimental and surgical endocrinology, psychosomatic sickness, the treatment of burn victims and breast disease.

"He was never afraid to express a controversial medical opinion and developed a reputation as a man of medicine who was always ahead of his time in medical thought," the statement said.

Some of those medical thoughts included treatments for burn patients in the 1940s. The method that he and the MGH staff developed became the norm for U.S. military treatment of burns.

In 1969, Cope retired from active surgery and dedicated himself to improving the treatment of women's breast cancer.

A few years before, in 1967, he had written an article expressing his doubt about the safety and prudence of mastectomies. The article was eventually printed in Vogue and Women's Day and sparked 8,500 letters asking for more information in the ten weeks after it ran.

In 1977, he published a book on problems of the breast titled The Breast: Its Problems Benign and Malignant and How to Deal with Them.

Cope decided to come to Harvard after a year at Haverford College, inspired by a Harvard Glee Club concert in Philadelphia. "I felt that if Harvard's atmospher was rich enough to nurture... such a superb tradition in music, there I was going, " tradition in music, there I was going," Copewrote later..

In the middle of his Medical School years, he took a year off and flew off to China as a newspaper correspondent, an experience he emerged from "more than satisfied."

Cope leaves behind a son, Robert DeNormandie Cope of Worcester, Mass., and Woodsville, N.H., and a daughter, Eliza Cope Harrison of Lebanon, Penn. He is also survived by five grandchildren.

There will be a memorial service for Oliver and Alice Cope in August.

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