August 10, 2012

Nancy Solomon

Former Chair of OB/Gyn Passes Away

Denis Cavanagh, M.D., 1924-2012

ST. LOUIS - Denis Cavanagh, M.D., SLU's first full-time chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology, passed away on July 24. He was 88 and had lived in Tampa.

Denis Cavanagh, M.D.

A gynecologist who specialized in cancer care, Dr. Cavanagh chaired the department from 1966-1971 and from 1973-1975.

Robert Blaskiewicz, M.D., professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women's health, was a student and resident when Dr. Cavanagh was department chair.

"I consider him to be one of the giants of our medical school heritage. He was a role model in many ways," Blaskiewicz said. "He was beyond a doubt the best pelvic surgeon I ever worked with. Dr. Cavanagh was an internationally recognized gynecologic oncologist and was a staunch pro-life physician."

Blaskiewicz described Dr. Cavanagh as gregarious and engaging.

"He was a man of impeccable character and he expected the highest standards from his students and residents," he said.

Dr. Cavanagh was recognized for his expertise in septic shock and developed a primate model used to study preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure caused by pregnancy. A prolific writer and researcher, Dr. Cavanagh wrote or was the co-author of four textbooks, 40 textbook chapters and about 240 articles in medical journals.

Matt Backer, M.D., professor emeritus of obstetrics, gynecology and women's health, credited Dr. Cavanagh with helping to build a stellar department.

"He contributed to the teaching program and brought in world renowned specialists. In this city, beyond question, he was the top gynecologic oncologist," Backer said. "He would regale you with jokes and stories and loved to sing."

Dr. Cavanagh was born in Scotland and received his medical degree from the University of Glasgow in 1952. Other than his time at Saint Louis University, he spent most of his medical career in Florida. Before coming to Saint Louis University, he was a professor of obstetrics at the University of Miami. He left SLU to serve as director of gynecologic oncology at the University of South Florida from 1977 to 1999, and later became the chief of gynecologic oncology for Tampa General Hospital and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center.

Dr. Cavanagh was preceded in death by his first wife, Margaret. He is survived by his wife, Anne; sons, Bernard (Shannon), Denis (Kim) and Joseph; step-daughter, Lisa; 10 grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Donations are requested to the American Diabetes Association.

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