News » In Memoriam: Hugo V. Rizzoli, M.D., Professor Emeritus

In Memoriam: Hugo V. Rizzoli, M.D., Professor Emeritus

It is with great sorrow that the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) announces the passing of Hugo V. Rizzoli, M.D., Professor Emeritus in the Department of Neurological Surgery.  A true neurosurgical pioneer and devoted mentor, he will be remembered for many years to come.

Rizzoli was born in Newark, New Jersey and was one of three children born to Italian immigrants. He attended the Johns Hopkins University, where he received his undergraduate degree in 1936 and his medical degree in 1940. After an internship in medicine at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, he entered the surgery program intending to become a general surgeon, but was instead assigned to the new specialty of neurosurgery. He served as a Harvey Cushing Fellow before completing his training in neurosurgery in 1944. Rizzoli was the last resident under Dr. Walter Dandy, one of the founding fathers of neurosurgery, as part of his famed “brain team.”

After serving in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War II and later as the neurosurgical section chief at Walter Reed General Hospital, Rizzoli joined the faculty of GW. He became well -known for his development of procedures for the surgical management of intervertebral disc herniations. He treated many influential politicians and other famous figures, including Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and J. Edgar Hoover. He traveled several times to Iraq at the request of the U.S. State Department to examine Saddam Hussein.

He was appointed the first fulltime chairman of neurosurgery at GW in 1971. In 1998, The Hugo V. Rizzoli Chair of Neurological Surgery was established in his honor. Rizzoli trained dozens of neurosurgeons over his career to whom he was a tireless and devoted mentor.

“He was a scholar, surgeon, and gentleman,” said Anthony Caputy, M.D., chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery and Dr. Hugo V. Rizzoli Professor of Neurosurgery at SMHS. “He made lasting contributions to the field of neurosurgery, which has impacted several generations and leaders. His affable, approachable style endeared him to all.”

In addition to more than 50 journal publications, he co-authored two books on post-operative complications of neurosurgical procedures that have become classics and continue today to influence surgeons in training. These frank and revealing discussions of what can and does go wrong in surgery anticipated by many years today's climate of medical transparency. He was also a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a member of the Morgagni Society (Italian-American Physicians). In 1979, he received the War Department's Commanders Award for Civilian Service presented at the Walter Reed Army Hospital. His other awards include Honorific Award of the Status of Cavaliere by the Italian Government (1983); Meritorious Service Award, Medical Society of the District of Columbia (1985); AANS Humanitarian Award (1989); Honored Guest, Congress of Neurological Surgeons (1984). The first annual Hugo V. Rizzoli lecture, established by the Walter Reed Department of Neurosurgery, was delivered at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences by Dr. Ludwig G. Kempe on Nov. 16, 2000.

Rizzoli is survived by his four children: Hugo Jr. (and his wife Carol Eron), Pamela Pia (and her husband Steve Jacob), Paul (and his wife Martha Buckley), Robert (and his fiancee Joanne Dixon), and three grandchildren.

A wake will be held Thursday, Dec. 11, 1-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at Joseph Gawler's Sons, 5130 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, D.C.

Funeral services will be held at the Church of the Little Flower on December 12, 2014 at noon.

Contributions in lieu of flowers could be made to Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary (Emmitsburg, Maryland), the GW Department of Neurological Surgery, and the Neurosurgical Research and Education Foundation of the AANS.

To make a gift in memory of Dr. Hugo V. Rizzoli to the GW Department of Neurological Surgery online, visit:

Or you can mail a check to:

The GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences
Office of Development and Alumni Relations
GW Department of Neurological Surgery
2030 M Street, NW, Suite 4054
Washington, DC 20036