Memorial service for Dr. Skultety set for Saturday

by Tom O'Connor, UNMC public affairs | November 07, 2008

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F. Miles Skultety, M.D., Ph.D.
F. Miles Skultety, M.D., Ph.D., one of the key physicians who helped begin the transformation of UNMC from a hospital primarily providing indigent care into a major academic health science center during the 1970s and 1980s, died Monday at his home in Omaha after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 86.

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m., Saturday, at Christ the King Church, 654 S. 86th St.

A neurosurgeon, Dr. Skultety joined UNMC in 1966 after serving on the faculty of the University of Iowa for 14 years. He was instrumental in the development of neurosurgery as a practice and a field of study at the UNMC College of Medicine and later chaired UNMC's neurosurgery department. He also established the Nebraska Pain Management Center, one of the first centers in the country for managing chronic, debilitating pain.

He held several key administrative positions, including chairman of the department of neurosurgery (1975 to 1987), associate dean for clinical affairs in the College of Medicine (1974 to 1982), and medical director of the Nebraska Pain Management Center (1973 to 1987).

From July 1978 to February 1979, Dr. Skultety served as interim dean of the College of Medicine. He was president of the medical staff from 1974 to 1980 and chief of staff from 1980 to 1982. He retired in 1987 after serving 21 years on the UNMC faculty.

On Nov. 17, Dr. Skultety and three other retired UNMC faculty members (Carol Angle, M.D., the late Merle Musselman, M.D. and Joseph Scott, Jr., M.D.) are slated to be honored at the annual Legends Dinner presented by Clarkson Regional Health Services.

A native of Rochester, N.Y., Dr. Skultety earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Rochester and his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa.

"He really dedicated his whole life to other people," said Bill Skultety, one of Dr. Skultety's three sons. "He measured himself by how much he could give back to the community. He did so through his work as a physician, as a volunteer with the Boys Scouts of America, by sharing his expertise as a master gardener, and by being active in his church and in the Omaha arts community."

His volunteer activity extended to UNMC where he wrote two books chronicling key portions of UNMC's history. The books were titled, "University Hospital: The First 75 Years, 1917-1992" and "The University of Nebraska College of Medicine: The Second Century, The First Twenty Years, 1980-2000."

"Miles was one of the faculty who built UNMC and made it possible to turn it into what it is today," said James Armitage, M.D., a world-class lymphoma expert at UNMC and a former dean of the UNMC College of Medicine. "In addition to being a great neurosurgeon, Miles contributed in every other way that was asked of him, from serving as acting dean, to writing a history of the college of medicine, to providing counsel to many faculty, department chairs and deans over the years."

"Miles was one of the faculty who built UNMC and made it possible to turn it into what it is today."

James Armitage, M.D.

Since he retired in 1987, one of Dr. Skultety's passions has been gardening. He took extensive course work to earn the designation of master gardener, one of only 172 master gardeners in Douglas and Sarpy counties. For the past 20 years, he served as a volunteer on Fridays at the Douglas County Extension Service manning the telephone for three hours to answer questions from the public during the gardening season.

Kathleen Cue, one of two master gardener program coordinators for the Douglas County Extension Service, was impressed with Dr. Skultety's volunteer efforts.

"Miles absolutely loved flowers," Cue said. "He had a real thirst for knowing more, so he took horticulture classes in Lincoln. He was in class with a bunch of kids. He had absolutely no problem rattling off the Latin names of plants. He was totally comfortable with these plant names.

"He did a wonderful job. We used to tape our master gardeners as they answered questions on the phone. I'll never forget one call that Miles handled. A lady had been mowing her yard when she started being attacked by what she thought were bees - actually they were wasps. She literally had to pull her blouse off so she didn't get stung. As she explained the situation to Miles, you could hear her start to calm down. By the time the call was over, she was so thankful to Miles. I can still remember him saying, 'You're most welcome, sweetheart.'"

Dr. Skultety volunteered more than 1,000 hours for the Douglas County Extension Service. He also was a member of the Omaha Orchid Society. His volunteer work for the Boy Scouts earned him both the Silver Beaver Award and the Silver Antelope Award.

His wife, Connie, died in 1998. His survivors include three sons, two daughters-in law and four grandchildren. The sons and daughters-in-law include: Chris and Delores, Longmont, Colo; Scott and Alice, Omaha; and Bill, Omaha.

In lieu of flowers, memorials should be made to the F. Miles Skultety Fund in Neurosurgery through the University of Nebraska Foundation, Opera Omaha, Omaha Symphony, or Boy Scouts of America - Mid-America Council.

What others are saying

"He was an excellent neurosurgeon and neurologist. He was a good friend to many. A fine man..who played a very important role at UNMC." -- Harry McFadden, Jr., M.D., retired chairman of UNMC's former Department of Medical Microbiology who also served twice as UNMC's interim chancellor

"Dr. Skultety was a visionary. He realized all pain problems couldn't be solved with surgery and medication. He looked for other solutions, including the idea of a behavioral pain program, which he eventually started at UNMC. He worked to create an interdisciplinary program to help patients become functional despite their pain." -- Tom Guck, Ph.D., a professor in the department of family medicine at Creighton University who was director of the pain management program at UNMC when Dr. Skultety was the program's medical director

"His gardening was one of the highlights of his retirement. He was very generous with his plants. He was a remarkable guy in many ways. He was a good administrator, who was always fair and honest. He always had the good of the hospital and his department in mind." -- Robert Grissom, M.D., professor emeritus, department of cardiology

"He loved classical music. He and his wife, Connie, were big supporters of the arts. They were instrumental in enticing other doctors to come to Omaha, including my husband (Donald Bennett, M.D.) and I. They were very persuasive. Many of these recruits are still here today. One thing I always admired about Miles was that after he retired, he had an entirely different life. He stopped being a doctor and went on to become a master gardener. That was his pride and joy. His garden was featured on the Munroe-Meyer Garden Walk a few years ago. He liked to come back and talk to medical students on a regular basis. He liked to talk about the gerontological aspects of medicine. He was quite a character." -- Kay Bennett, former nurse with the Visiting Nurse Association and the widow of Donald Bennett, M.D., a UNMC neurologist who died in 1996

"Although I was never fortunate enough to have worked directly with Dr. Skultety, there is no doubt whatsoever that he was a legendary figure in the history of UNMC and one of the physicians who played a pivotal role in UNMC's development into a world-class facility. His great legacy will never be forgotten. He truly made a difference." -- John Gollan, M.D., Ph.D., dean, UNMC College of Medicine

"Our relations go back a long time. Dr. (Cecil) Wittson (former dean of the UNMC College of Medicine) asked me to get the neurology department going 42 years ago and wanted someone to head up neurosurgery. I told him about my friend at the University of Iowa -- Miles Skultety. Cecil was impressed with him and offered him the job. Miles was doing basic neuroscience/physiology research. He was a very productive research man and an excellent neurosurgeon. Students liked him very much. He was a very compassionate instructor. He was very instrumental in getting the medical school going and the neurosciences going. Medical neurologists and neurosurgeons are usually quite competitive at other universities, but that wasn't the case at Nebraska. Miles and I were good friends and got along quite well. He was a good man. He will be missed very much." -- Walter Friedlander, M.D., who founded both the department of neurology (now the department of neurosciences) and the department of medical humanities and jurisprudence (now the department of preventive and societal medicine)

"I got the opportunity to work with Dr. Skultety when he was writing a book on the College of Medicine's history between 1980 and 2000. He was in his early 80s, but I remember being impressed with his feisty spirit. He told Dr. (James) Armitage (who was dean of the College of Medicine at the time) that he would be willing to write the book, but only on one condition -- that he was not going to do any writing during the gardening season. I'm sure Dr. Armitage was only too happy to make this deal. All it cost him was a lunch." -- Tom O'Connor, senior associate director, public affairs

"Dr. Skultety was gracious and humble in his approach to his life, work, patients and colleagues. He was a very gentle man who always had time to talk to patients and other physicians." -- John Aita, M.D., Omaha neurologist

"I remember Dr. Skultety and his wife, Connie, very well and with affection. They were both very involved with UNMC -- Dr. Skultety as a neurosurgeon and Connie in the Faculty Women's group and as a volunteer. They often had parties at their home and would invite others in the neurology community and their wives." -- Virginia Aita, Ph.D., medical ethicist and associate professor, UNMC College of Public Health