Remembering: Dennis Landers, MD, PhD

by John Keenan, UNMC strategic communications | January 15, 2021

Dennis Landers, MD, PhD, former chair of the UNMC Department of Anesthesiology, who graduated from UNMC in 1969 as one of the institution's first MD/PhD graduates, passed away on Dec. 12 at the age of 79.

Friend and colleague Alan Langnas, DO, professor in the UNMC Department of Surgery, said Dr. Landers' impact on the UNMC Department of Anesthesiology, which he chaired from 1987-1994, was immense.

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Dennis Landers, MD, PhD

"The university clinical programs were relatively small in the 1990s, and although there were great people, the department didn't have a lot of breadth," he said. "Denny had great emotional intelligence -- he was good with people and he was a good manager. He was able to take all the wonderful anesthesiologists in the program and continue to grow the department.

"Denny was a really great human being," Dr. Langnas said. "He was generous of spirit. He was generous in his ability to help people, such as young faculty. That was a foundational aspect of his personality."

"Dr. Landers resuscitated a dying anesthesiology residency program during a period when medical students did not want to go into anesthesiology," said Vicki Hamm, who worked with Dr. Landers during his leadership of the department. "Through Dr. Landers' leadership, he built a program that became one of the most successful and sought after in the Midwest. I will always remember his approachable and easygoing manner and how much the residents in the program loved and respected him."

Although he did not know Dr. Landers personally, Steven Lisco, MD, current chair of the department, said that he had "led the department very successfully through what most would describe as the dark days of anesthesiology training in the early 1990s.

"The importance of his efforts during those difficult times cannot be underestimated," Dr. Lisco said. "We are all beneficiaries of that legacy and the department would not be what it is today without his skillful leadership."

"I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Landers as he led the UNMC Department of Anesthesiology during a time of significant transition for the department," said Michael McGlade, the college's senior associate dean for business and finance. "His ability to lead with an even-keeled approach, constantly placing the department's best interests first, always impressed me. His leadership launched the department in the direction it has built upon to be the national leader it is today. Finally, during all these years, Denny remained a friend, visiting whenever he was in town and proudly talking of his time at UNMC."

Dr. Landers also was a philanthropic supporter of UNMC, contributing regularly to his class fund for the class of 1969 and helping to create the Dr. Mary Jo Henn Memorial Scholarship Fund. (The family has suggested donations be made to the fund in memory of Dr. Landers.) "We still get letters from the recipients, and it made him smile every time he read one," said his wife, Diane Landers.

"Dr. Landers was really proud of UNMC and the medical education he earned here," said Catherine Mello, director of the UNMC Alumni Association. "He was equally proud of his stint as the chair of the UNMC Department of Anesthesiology, and he often spoke very fondly of the time he spent at the medical center. He kept close tabs on UNMC's work over the years and remained connected through the Alumni Association. Dr. Landers was a gentleman and a statesman with a giving spirit who will be greatly missed."

Dr. Langnas also fondly recalled Dr. Landers as a ski buff and a bit of a daredevil, leading his friend on several ski adventures. (Dr. Landers worked part-time at Snowbasin Ski Resort in Utah during his retirement, becoming the oldest person to become a certified ski instructor at the resort.)

"He was a kind and generous man," Dr. Langnas said. "And he left a positive impact on the campus at a time when it was really needed."

Diane Landers shared a story of the couples' time at UNMC that makes her smile.

"When Dennis was the chairperson, we had the nephew of my oldest and dearest friend contact us to spend some time with Denny and see if he really wanted to go to medical school -- at the time, he was an undergrad," she said. "Denny spent some valuable time with him not only in the office but in the OR.

"What he remembered the most was that Denny was the only doctor in the OR in cowboy boots," she said. "This young man went on to become a physician and practices in Washington, DC. Dennis touched the lives of so many. This is just one story that I love."

Friends are invited to share memories of Dr. Landers in the comments section below.

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Shelly McCaffrey
January 15, 2021 at 10:50 AM

It was an honor being Dr. Landers' secretary when he was our Chairman here in Anesthesiology. In my mind, I can still hear his voice calling out to me a thousand times a day (His office was where Dr. Johnson's office is now, and my desk was where our copier is), and I can still smell his pipe. He was a great boss, and I'm so very sad to hear of his passing. I'm so thankful that he and Diane stopped in the department to say "Hello" when they were in town last year. Sending warmest thoughts & deepest sympathy, Shelly