Alan Davies Sessler, MD, age 87, died peacefully at his Charter House home on March 18, 2020. He is survived by Martha, his wife of sixty years, children Karen Sessler and James Sessler, of Rochester, Steven Sessler and wife Mary Elizabeth, of Livonia, NY, granddaughters Meghan, Lauren and Kaitlin Sessler Towner (Clement), and great-grandson, Oliver Towner.
In recent months Alan was assembling his memoirs, portions of which are included below.
"A succession of good fortune has befallen me over the years, for which I am extremely grateful." He always felt he had been "darned lucky." An only child, Alan was born on April 4, 1932, in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, MA, to Albert (a dentist) and Mildred (a doting mother who Alan credits for getting him off to an acceptable start in school).
Alan believed in the value of education and admired educational institutions that have endured for centuries. The seed for this was planted by his study at Boston Latin School, established in 1635 as the first public school in the United States. Boston Latin was tough. He recalls, my years there made me a believer in meritocracy. Your nationality and social standing didn't matter; if you didn't cut it, they threw you out.
From 1939 to 1955, he spent entire summers visiting and working at picturesque Pinewood Camps in Canton, ME. His social skills, work ethic, appreciation of nature and the outdoors, and love for family was developed during those years. Alan attended Dartmouth College, Tufts University Medical School, and in 1957, began internship and residency at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH. He would later continue his support of DHMC traveling to New Hampshire twice a year for 23 years as a member of the board of trustees or in an advisory role.
During his residency, he met Martha Anne Smith, an intern who had completed medical school at The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. They were married on July 4, 1959, in La Marque, TX. Over the next seven years, they would become proud parents of three children: Karen, Steve, and Jim.
In August 1959, he was activated in the U.S. Navy and assigned to the Naval Hospital in Great Lakes, IL, as an anesthesiologist. In November 1960, he was re-assigned as the Medical Officer aboard the USS Des Moines. Since there was no active combat at the time, his 9-month tour on the Mediterranean was reasonably pleasant and educational.
In 1961, Alan began a fellowship at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and, in 1962, he was appointed to Mayo Clinic Staff as a consultant in anesthesiology, serving there until his retirement in 1995. He became an advocate for the underdog--the status of anesthesia in the early 1960s. He helped to establish the first ICUs at Methodist and Saint Marys hospitals in the late 1960s and directed the units at Saint Marys through the 1970s. Never happier than when planning with friends and associates, the moves required to accomplish a goal; he had a talent for persuading the right people to do things that needed to be done. He was vigorous and persistent in enabling each project to achieve a favorable outcome.
Alan was especially committed to medical education. As chair of the Department of Anesthesiology from 1977 to 1988, he led the anesthesiology residency program in its rapid growth, sending dozens of finely educated anesthesiologists into practice throughout the United States and world. From 1989 to 1995, he was Dean of Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education.
He was a director and member of the American Board of Anesthesiology and Vice President for Scientific Affairs of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. He was sequentially a founding board member, executive director, president, and president emeritus of the Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research (FAER), which provides grants for the education of anesthesiology residents and start-up research grants for young investigators.
Despite the long hours required by his many work responsibilities, he could also leave his work at the office. The family has fond memories of summer vacations to Maine and northern Minnesota, walks that doubled as mentoring sessions, and his supportive attendance at activities ranging from Little League games to school band concerts.
After retiring from Mayo and with the children off on their own, he and Martha often traveled, taking over 20 trips with the Road Scholars program. Birds in South America, beaches and volcanos in Hawaii, an African safari, ancient ruins in Mexico, and more - all interesting and offering something new to learn and experience. Closer to home, Alan continued to receive reports, announcements, and invitations from a multitude of medically related organizations in which he had enjoyed a leadership role. Frequent cup of coffee visits with active colleagues brought pleasure as he learned of changes in their lives and the life of the anesthesia department.
Many organizations that Alan perceived to be good for the community and the betterment of individuals within them have benefited from his time and talents. Notable recently are the Rochester Public Library with its educational opportunities and Charter House with friends both new and old and the activities of its committees -- whose meetings Alan often attended even when not an official member.
A celebration of Alan's life will be held at First Presbyterian Church in Rochester at a date to be determined. In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to First Presbyterian Church Rochester, MN, FAER or the Mayo Foundation.
To leave a special memory or condolence, please visit www.ranfranzandvinefh.com.
Alan was a dear colleague and friend for so many of us at Mayo and beyond. When I worked with Anesthesiology in the early ‘90s, he made himself available as adviser and sounding board, which I greatly appreciated. In all the years that followed Alan was a calm, wise and supportive presence for me. An informal mentor. My thoughts and prayers are with his family as you mourn the loss and celebrate the life of this fine man.
Dr. Sessler was an inspiration to many of us! We , All anesthesiologists will miss him.
Dr. Sessler was the leader of our department during my residency at Mayo and served as a true professional role model for me and many others. He remained a trusted friend and encouraging mentor throughout my career. I will miss him, as will "the house of medicine".
My thoughts and prayers are extended to the Sessler family at this time. To Him we give all the glory and we have faith that Dr. Sessler is in the arms of Jesus now.
Rainie Flury Tufty
Dr. Sessler was gentle, effective person with remarkable accomplishments. For me he was a mentor and a friend when was head of the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Medicine. Over the years he shared his enthusiasm as a long time member of the Dartmouth College Board. In recent years he remained very active in his retirement at Charter House as a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Association coming to our meetings and quietly adding comments from his vast experience particularly as supporter of the Rochester Public Library.
Dr. Sessler was an extraordinary man and I will miss him dearly. He was a good friend to me, a father-figure, and mentor. I have many fond memories of him and many stories. He was also my FAER travelling buddy when I worked at FAER. We always flew together and dined together on our business trips. After I left FAER in 2016, I still met with him a few times a month for tea/coffee/lunch or for a sweet treat; usually a big cinnamon roll with lots of frosting. Every encounter with him was also an educational moment. I would let him know each year when the bluebells were in season by the river and he was always eager to hear my trout fishing stories every season. He gave me some of his old fishing tackle and his old fishing net. He was a very caring man. I was very fortunate to have him in my life. The last time I met with him a couple weeks ago, we went through his final edits on his autobiography before sending it to the printer I’m so glad he got that finished. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family. Jody Clikeman
My sadness upon seeing this notice is overcome by the joy of pleasant memory. Alan was a faithful and creative churchman and a wise friend to this pastor
May God's loving Spirit bring you comfort in the days ahead.
I was a secretary in Anesthesiology years ago and recall a snow storm that shut down travel. Dr Sessler snowshoed into work from NE Rochester.
He was an example for many. A blessing from God. Judy Fabian
Dr. Sessler was such a wonderful Christian. He was so interested in the achievements of out young people. We will miss his kind and loving presence.
We wish to express our condolences to Martha and her family, for the loss of Dr. Alan Sessler., a beloved family man and a renowned and respected physician.
Ken and Mary Ann Sahs
Alan was and always will be a good friend, a wise, humble, quiet scholar to whom we all listened when he spoke.
I will miss our regular "catch up" calls.
May his soul rest in peace.
I just spoke with Martha and we shared our feelings about the sudden loss of our long-term spouses.
Carl Hug 03/23/20 1627 h est
We wish to express our condolences to Martha and her family, for the loss of Dr.Alan Sessler, a beloved family man and a renowned and respected physician.
Ken and Mary Ann Sahs
Alan was a true gentleman and diplomat. He inspired a generation of ASA Presidents and leaders with his earnest and tactful support of FAER. Without his tireless efforts, I doubt that FAER would be the excellent organization it is today. I personally benefited from his wisdom and insight during my years on both the ASA Executive Committee and the FAER Board.
It was a blessing to know him and learn from him. He will be sadly missed. May he rest in peace knowing that he left behind societies and organizations better than he found them.
Dr. Alan Sessler was a great physician, an accomplished educator and a long time friend to our family as my brother Tom mentioned above. My wife Chisako and I are so heartbroken to hear the sad news of his passing. I first remember him from when I was a little boy romping around the First Presbyterian Church but came to know him better as an adult. My fondest memories of him were the times I would be back in Rochester from my home in San Francisco and later Tokyo when I would be invited to join him, my dad and the other members of what was known as the "Chowder Club" that met just about every Friday at Michaels for several decades - give or take a year or two. Dr. Sessler was probably the last living member of the club and with his passing it now enters the realm of legend. Many times I would be seated next to him and he always took an interest in my life and adventures and we had many wonderful conversations. On several occassions I was priviledged to accompany him and my dad on walks along the Zumbro in good weather and around the mall in bad. But either good weather or bad the one thing you could count on was that the walk would end at Panera's for cinnamon rolls and more stimulating conversation of course. He was such a caring and compassionate man who seemed younger than his years and had such a broad field of interests and experiences that it is hard to believe he has gone. To Mrs. Sessler, Karen, Steve and Jim we send our heartfelt condolences and can't tell you how much his friendship and company meant to us over the years. We will miss him very much.
Dr Sessler or Alan as he always wanted to be called was not just a friend to my dad for many years but when my dad passed away he continued to eat lunch with me about once a month. I have many good memories of Alan and my dad at Michaels restaurant were they ate lunch almost every Friday for well over 30 years. I had the privilege to eat with them both for about 5 or so years until they closed.
I can't tell you how much he helped me work through things from my dad dying to my son passing away recently. He was always there for me and was fun to talk with but also when needed he gave me good advise like a friend and father would.
I will miss our lunches and time together.
For the family I just want you to know that your dad and husband was a great caring person and he touched my life and I will never forget him. He talked of you all and loved you all very much.
Alan, I will miss you and I wish I could have one more lunch with you.
We have lost a giant in our specialty. His dedication to education and enhancing our field of medicine will be missed. Also to be missed is the ability to go for a "sesslering" with the guru who always had sage advice for those of us who were lucky enough to serve with him on numerous societies and boards. He, indeed, was the epitome of a mentor.
It was an honor to have known Alan, to have worked with him, to have enduring, wonderful memories of his talent, the dedication to his profession, and his kindness and the respect he received by all those who had the privilege of knowing him. He will not be forgotten.
Peter L. McDermott, M.D., Ph.D
Alan and Martha were our “pew neighbors” at church, and I find it hard to believe that he will not be there to share the peace when we next get together. Alan encouraged me to do the work I do with the presbytery,, for which encouragement I am very grateful. Elizabeth Remfert
I have recent, and fond memories visiting and having coffee with Dr. Sessler at Charter House. A spirited and kind gentleman, and I will miss him...
Alan was a great mentor, friend, and inspiration to countless physicians he impacted over his long, successful career. He changed many lives, including mine. His vision, tolerance, and relentless commitment changed the specialty he served so well. His loss leaves a void he would want us to try to fill. A life of meaning well lived. Steve Rose
Alan Sessler was one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I have ever known. He recruited me as a director for FAER, believing that its education mission was critical. He set a wonderful standard both for FAER and for Mayo. His influence is seen in so many graduates of the Mayo anesthesiology program. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and former colleagues. Godspeed.
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