McElvein 275x275Thoracic surgery pioneer Richard McElvein establishes medical student scholarship.A self-proclaimed “Yankee,” Richard McElvein, M.D., was recruited to start the first General Thoracic Surgery program at UAB by John Kirklin, M.D., and stayed because of the kindness of Alabama’s people.

“The people in Alabama are nice to one another because that’s the way they live,” he says. “They’re not nice because they want to get something from you; they’re nice because that’s in their makeup. They’re wonderful to be around.”

Now, at age 90 and living in Massachusetts, McElvein is finding another way to help the people of Alabama by establishing a scholarship that benefits UAB School of Medicine students: the Dr. Richard and Priscilla McElvein Endowed Scholarship. It is partly named after his late wife of 58 years, Priscilla, with whom he had three children.

“Alabama, its people, and UAB changed our professional and personal lives,” says McElvein, a New York native who earned his medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine. “I achieved academic stature and had the pleasure of working with my patients, my students, and my fellow faculty members. When it came time to decide where to give a gift, I thought it was only appropriate that I support the organization so important in my development and success.”

He was instrumental in UAB’s and its affiliated medical centers’ successes, too. McElvein served as professor of surgery at the School of Medicine, where he educated and mentored hundreds of students, residents, and fellows. He was the assistant chief of staff of University Hospital for over 10 years, where he helped with the planning and building of several buildings and was responsible for getting large elevators installed in the hospital to seamlessly transport patients between floors.

McElveinMcElvein is currently pursuing painting as a hobby, as this self-portrait demonstrates.McElvein also served as the chief of thoracic surgery at University Hospital and the Birmingham VA Medical Center, helping establish their thoracic surgery programs. Since his programs were so successful, fellow thoracic surgeons across the country asked him for advice on how to get their programs started. “I always told them it was really simple: have a boss who gets behind you,” he says. “John gave me all the tools I needed and believed in me. Everything else followed suit.”

McElvein says everything seemed to fall into place from his very first recruitment meeting with Kirklin. During that visit, they ran into Warren E. Burger, chief justice of the United States, in the elevator. “John knew the chief justice from being on the board at the Mayo Clinic,” recalls McElvein. “I thought it was very impressive to see your future boss meet and converse with the chief justice of the United States. It made me think I was going to be in the right place.”

McElvein also knew that the UAB School of Medicine was the right place to establish his scholarship because it allows a donor to see his or her gift used over several years if requested. By endowing his scholarship, McElvein’s gift will earn interest. The interest will be dispersed to deserving students while the corpus is held in a protected fund for several years.

“I thought that was a very nice way to do it,” he says. “Normally, you give an organization some money, and it gobbles that money up. At UAB, my gift affects more students. It is a very nice program well worth supporting. My money is not used up; it’s used for.”

Now retired, McElvein uses his free time practicing his beloved hobbies, which include traveling, golfing, and painting. He used to put his sketches of chests complete with lesion locations in his charts. He is currently taking a class in portraiture and has worked with watercolors, charcoal, oils, and pen and ink.

“When I retired, I had some time available,” he notes with excitement in his voice. “I started taking painting courses and then thought, ‘I’ll keep at it. It keeps me off the streets and out of the saloons.’”

To learn more about giving to support medical student scholarships, contact Jessica Brooks Lane at 205-975-4452 or

By Emily Henagan