Remembering SGO Past President and Inaugural FWC Chair Rodrigue Mortel, MD (1933–2022)
The Society of Gynecologic Oncology regrets to announce the passing of SGO Past President and Inaugural Chair of FWC, Rodrigue Mortel, MD, who died peacefully in his home on Friday, April 22, 2022, at the age of 88. Dr. Mortel’s official is available online.
Dr. Mortel’s impact on the world, through his work in gynecologic oncology, his dedication to education and his philanthropy, cannot be understated. He graduated from medical school in his home country, Haiti, and went on to receive training from Hahnemann Medical College (obstetrics and gynecology) and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (gynecologic oncology).
In his storied career, Dr. Mortel would not only treat many patients, but teach many new generations of clinicians and conduct groundbreaking research during his 30-year tenure at the Penn State College of Medicine, where he became the first Black, foreign-educated doctor to chair the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Later, he became the Founding Director of the Penn State University Cancer Center. He also endowed two visiting scholar lectureships at Penn State University.
Dr. Mortel served leadership positions in all prestigious obstetric and gynecologic societies in this country, and received many awards, including the United States Public Health Service Award, the Horatio Alger Award, and the Faculty Scholar Medal from Penn State University for outstanding achievement in the area of health sciences.
In 1991, Dr. Mortel served as the Founding Chair for the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation (now known as ), and in 1994–1995, he served as the first Black president of the Society for Gynecologic Oncology. In 1997, Dr. Mortel established to provide “education, support and hope to the economically, socially and intellectually deprived people living in one of the poorest nations in the world.”
Dr. Mortel’s life was spent in service to others, and the impact of his legacy will continue to be felt for decades to come, through his research, charity, and education. He was a true giant, and we will always feel his presence in the field as those he educated continue to educate others, those he impacted impact others and as the many programs he founded continue to lift up patients and communities.
Reflections from Dr. Mortel’s Colleagues in SGO and FWC
“There is no question we have lost a giant. Rod was a dear friend of mine. He was very special in so many ways. He was always available to help others including what he did for his home country. Always had a smile and such an infectious laugh. He played a major role in establishing the SGO foundation [FWC]. He will be missed by so many. Those of us that knew him are blessed for sure.” —Wesley C. Fowler, MD, SGO Past President and Past Chair of the Foundation for Women’s Cancer
“Dr Mortel was an inspiration and role model for me and so many others in SGO. He truly lived a life of service to humanity and I am so grateful to have known him.” —Carol L. Brown, MD, SGO Past President
“Inaugural Chair of the FWC, and a trailblazer for Women’s Cancers. We honor the legacy of Dr. Mortel. We are so grateful for his inspiration, dedication and brilliant leadership. His work significantly accelerated awareness, research and education for women’s cancers, and his memory lives on with us today.” —Ginger J. Gardner, MD, Current Chair of the Foundation for Women’s Cancer
“As a young SGO Secretary-Treasurer Elect, I had the opportunity to get to know Rod Mortel on a personal basis. He was clearly a visionary who served the SGO for several years with distinction. First, I remember Rod as one of the society’s first African American members and the very first minority SGO President. I had a front-row seat observing Rod—along with Clarence Ehrlich, Jack Van Nagell, and Butch Fowler—begin to unfurl his vision of a foundation for the society to promote awareness, research, and education. This concept was not popular with several of the senior members at that time, but Rod persevered and became the founder and first Chairman of the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, now the FWC. He will always be remembered as one of SGO’s luminaries.” —David M. Gershenson, MD, SGO Past President and Past Chair of the Foundation for Women’s Cancer
“Rod Mortel was a great person. He was always principle based and focused on the tripartite mission. He was a role model for me and many others. In his later life he devoted himself to the people of Haiti. I think it is estimated that he provided funds to feed over 23,000 (yes 23,000) Haitian children. He was a man who did rather than just talk. We could all learn from his actions.” —David G. Mutch, MD, SGO Past President and Past Chair of the Foundation for Women’s Cancer