Class of 1957

Robert Hess, '57 MD, receives Fort Findlay Award

The advice Findlay-native Dr. Robert Hess, 87, received as a teen playing American Legion baseball served as a driving force behind a nearly 40-year career as a neurosurgeon. Hess received the Findlay Rotary Club’s Fort Findlay Award on Monday. It is “presented to honor a former resident who has gone on to distinguish him or herself after leaving our community.” The award was last presented to Judge David Katz in 2010.

“G. Fred Graf (a National Guard brigadier general and 25-year postmaster) was a great influence in my life and let me tell you why,” Hess told a large audience during the club’s weekly luncheon at the Findlay Country Club. “It was our first American Legion game. It was my first uniform as a baseball player. My first game I was petrified. I was scared stiff. A pop fly came out over the first baseman and I just stood there.”

“Go get the ball (teammates yelled) and throw it to second base. I couldn’t move,” he said. “The next inning, I went to the plate. I stood there with the bat on my shoulder and three called strikes occurred.”

“Fred Graf took me out of the game. He drove me home that night and he said, ‘Bob, you’re going to start the next game and when you go to the plate, hit the ball. Stand up to it (the plate) and hit the ball.'”

“I never forgot that the rest of my medical life.”

He joined the Navy after medical school. “This was a great experience of my life. I spent two years at sea in the Pacific as a medical officer on the USS Los Angeles. I was the only medical officer on the ship.” He retired from the Navy Reserve in 1971 as a lieutenant commander. But it was long before his Navy service that he began learning life lessons and making lifetime friends while growing up in Findlay.

As a student, his grades were mediocre and a comment each grading period stated he “needs to refrain from annoying other students while they are doing their homework and schoolwork.” In the fourth grade, his teacher Bess Rogers announced students who ranked the highest. Neither his name nor his best friend Frank Mowry’s name were mentioned. Frank stood up and ask where he ranked. There were 28 students in the class and he was 27th.

“I stood up and boldly I said to her ‘Miss Rogers, where did I rank?’ and she said ‘you were right behind Frank.”

It was Richard “Doc” Phillips, a Findlay High biology teacher, who served as” the other great influence,” he said. He needed a second science course to graduate and was introduced to “Doc” Phillips. “He changed my life,” Hess said. “He taught me the secrets of plant life and of animal life. I felt it was fascinating.”

“He was a supreme disciplinarian in school. If you made a spitball, and you threw it, your punishment was to make 100 spitballs and not miss putting them in the wastepaper basket from about 20 feet. If you missed one, you made 10 more and started again.”

“Doc Phillips was an inspiration to me in my life,” Hess said. “I’m sorry I didn’t ever get to tell him what an influence he was.”

“When I graduated from Findlay High School, my grade point average was 1.5, not very good,” he said. “But Bowling Green (State University) was required to take me. If I didn’t pass the first semester, out you go.”

“I remembered the dean of the college of liberal arts saying to the 1,000 students scattered in the auditorium, ‘Look around, four years from now only one out of four of you will be here.’ I made a secret vow to myself: I’m going to be here, good Lord willing,” he said.

“In 1953, I was the 14th student accepted to the College of Medicine at Ohio State University with a 3.4 average. My dear friend from Findlay, Frank Mowry, was first to be accepted.”

After four years in medical school and a year of internship, “I knew I was going to become a neurologist or a neurosurgeon,” he said. He had a private practice at Mount Carmel Hospital for 25 years. Hess retired in 1995. He was named Ohio Neurosurgeon of the Year in 1994 and was president of the organization’s state society in 1990-1991. He was co-author, with Dr. William Hunt, an Ohio State University faculty member, of two books related to aneurysms and repair techniques.

“I can’t tell you what a thrill it is for me to stand up here today and talk with you,” he said.

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