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Obituary: Charles L. Roper, professor emeritus of surgery, 90

Groundbreaking surgeon's contributions to medicine were monumental

January 5, 2016


Charles L. Roper, MD, a groundbreaking cardiothoracic surgeon and a professor emeritus of surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, died of respiratory failure Dec. 17, 2015, in Kirkwood, Mo. He was 90.

Early in his surgical career, Roper demonstrated groundbreaking techniques when he partnered with the late Joseph Ogura, MD, former head of the Department of Otolaryngology at the School of Medicine. Together, the physicians successfully pioneered esophageal reconstruction procedures that allowed patients reliant on gastrostomy tube feedings to resume oral feedings.

Other career accomplishments included serving as president of the Barnes Hospital Society and the St. Louis Thoracic Surgical Society. Additionally, Roper served on the editorial boards of several prestigious journals, and his medical expertise is noted in dozens of peer-reviewed publications.

“Charlie Roper’s contributions to medicine were monumental, thanks to his immense surgical skills, his devotion to mentoring students and colleagues, as well as his ability to instill grace and compassion in everything he did,” said Timothy J. Eberlein, MD, the Bixby Professor of Surgery and head of the Department of Surgery at the School of Medicine. “His work was groundbreaking and respected by all. He will be missed.”

Roper became an emeritus professor in 1993. He remained a mentor in the School of Medicine by participating as a visiting professor, lecturing on thoracic surgery and acting as a sounding board on difficult surgical cases.

An ardent fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, Roper also was a consulting physician for the team.

The School of Medicine awarded Roper the Resident/Fellow Alumni Achievement Award in 2013.

Born in East St. Louis, Ill., Roper served for three years in the U.S. Army with service in Europe during World War II. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology at Colorado College in 1949 and a medical degree at the University of Colorado in 1953.

Shortly after, Roper moved to St. Louis to intern at the now-defunct St. Louis County Hospital and then complete his general surgery residency and cardiothoracic fellowship at what was then Barnes Hospital. In 1959, he became a faculty member at the School of Medicine.

Roper is survived by his wife; Dorothy Lea Roper; his six children, Elizabeth Roper, Charles Roper Jr., Deborah McNamara, Catherine Noll, William Roper and Sandra Coburn; and 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He is preceded in death by his first wife, Gail Roper.

The family is honoring Roper’s request of no public memorial service.

Contributions in his memory may be made to a charity of one’s choice.