Cleft Palate Pioneer Ralph Millard Laid to Rest

Dr. D. Ralph Millard revolutionized plastic surgery and spent 28 years as chief of the plastic surgery divisions at UM's Miller School of Medicine and Jackson Memorial Hospital

Millard's Headshot
courtesy of the Millard Society

Dr. D. Ralph Millard, a Miami plastic surgeon renowned the world over for introducing a revolutionary technique in the correction of cleft palates, will be laid to rest today after suffering reported heart failure on Sunday.

He was 92.

A towering figure and exacting doctor known as the "Chief", Millard spent 28 years as head of the plastic surgery divisions at UM's Miller School of Medicine and Jackson Memorial Hospital.

"He took a great personal interest in his residents and fellows," said former student Dr. Tony Wolfe in an online tribute. "The intense scrutiny of our work was something that most of us had not experienced before, but almost all ended up grateful for it.  Basing our plastic surgery on principles was the important thing to learn, as well as integrity in both our professional and private lives."

After performing a cleft palate procedure with a M.A.S.H. unit in Korea, according to his biography on the UM website, Dr. Millard presented his 'rotation advancement' breakthrough to the 1st Congress of the International Society of Plastic Surgeons in Stockholm in 1955.

By using the oft-discarded tissue from the 'cupid's bow' of the lip, the procedure enabled doctors to operated on children as young as four or five rather than teens -- and produced a more natural-looking mouth in a quicker surgery.

Dr. Millard performed the procedure countless times at home and abroad, always charging a nominal fee, or more often not charging at all, for a procedure he considered necessary.

His breakthrough -- along with others in rhinoplasty and beyond -- earned him the designation of "the most brilliant and creative plastic surgeon we have alive" from Plastic Surgery News, and a nomination as one of 10 "Plastic Surgeons of the Millennium" by the American Society of Plastic Surgery.

Those who came in contact with Millard, whether professionally or through reading his seminal work The Principles and Art of Plastic Surgery, recall his guiding philosophy as much as his technical brilliance.

"Through exposure to his erudite, witty, creative, and very accessible writing expounding on his principles of plastic surgery, and his tying these to principles of human endeavors in war, football, boxing, and business, I came to believe that the practice of plastic surgery was something more than just a way to earn a living," wrote Dr. Robin Yuan in Behind the Mask, Beneath the Glitter.

"His book...delineating his thirty-three principles was a real eye-opener for me. I began to look for my own overriding philosophy to connect the dots of life and work."

Dr. Millard is survived by three children, and six grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. at Miami Shores Presbyterian Church, and his family has requested donations to the Millard Society in lieu of flowers.

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