Rollin A. Daniel Jr., a pioneer in cardiac and thoracic surgery, was born June 14, 1908, in Georgia. Shortly thereafter, his parents moved to the Nashville area, and he grew up in Middle Tennessee. Daniel graduated from Goodlettsville High School and Branham Hughes Military Academy in 1926. He received his B.A. degree from Vanderbilt University in 1930 and his M.D. from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1933. Daniel served an internship in surgery at Vanderbilt University Hospital. He was an assistant resident at Barnes and Children's Hospital affiliated with Washington University in St. Louis, 1934-35. Daniel then returned to Vanderbilt University Hospital, where he was an assistant resident for two years and then resident in surgery from 1937 to 1938. Upon completion of his residency, Daniel was appointed to the faculty of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and rose to the rank of full professor of surgery. He served as chief of the thoracic surgery service at Vanderbilt University Hospital, where he developed a superb program in cardiothoracic surgery. He served as chief of the surgical services at St. Thomas Hospital, 1962-65 and 1970-78. In 1968 he was president of the St. Thomas medical staff.
Daniel was certified by the American Board of Surgery and also the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, where he served as a member of the Founders Group, chairman of the Credentials Committee, and chairman of the board (1965-67). He was a member of the Society of University Surgeons and served as president of both the Nashville Academy of Medicine and the Nashville Surgical Society.
Daniel authored fifty-six publications. His first paper, coauthored with Drs. Alfred Blalock and Sam Upchurch, appeared in 1933 in the journal Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics. His publications cover a wide range of surgical problems, but from 1944 they reflect his concentration of interest in thoracic and cardiovascular surgery. His papers range from the descriptions of his studies on the regeneration of defects of the trachea and bronchi and the experimental production of “wet lung” to the surgical management of a wide variety of thoracic and cardiovascular disorders.
Daniel successfully balanced the roles of medical educator, investigator, and practitioner. Well known as a dedicated teacher, he had few peers in surgical judgment and technical ability. He was always considered a “doctor's doctor,” and his practice included many physicians and their families as patients. A warm and sympathetic person and loyal colleague, Daniel exemplified the best in American medicine.