Blocker, Truman Graves, Jr. (1909–1984)

By: Chester R. Burns

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1994

Updated: April 16, 2019

Truman G. Blocker, Jr., surgeon, teacher, and administrator, was born in West Point, Mississippi, on April 17, 1909, to Truman Graves and Mary Ann (Johnson) Blocker. He attended public schools in Sherman, Texas, and graduated from Austin College in 1929. After receiving his M.D. degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in 1933, he interned at the Graduate Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, then devoted a year to residency training in surgery at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston. He then served as an instructor in surgery at the Presbyterian Hospital affiliated with Columbia University in New York City until 1936, when he returned to UTMB as an assistant professor of surgery. Blocker received certification from the American Board of Surgery in 1940 and from the American Board of Plastic Surgery in 1942.

From the summer of 1942 until the summer of 1946 he served as a military surgeon, first in the United States Air Force, then in the United States Army. He became chief of plastic surgery and later chief of surgery at Wakeman General Hospital in Camp Atterbury, Indiana. He was particularly interested in maxillofacial injuries, especially those requiring extensive repair of soft-tissue defects and bone grafting. When he was discharged Colonel Blocker was awarded the Legion of Merit.

He returned to UTMB in 1946 and became professor and chief of a new division of plastic and maxillofacial surgery. After ships anchored in Texas City exploded in 1947, injuring and burning some 3,000 persons (see TEXAS CITY DISASTER), Blocker and his wife, Dr. Virginia Howard (Irvine) Blocker, published a survey of the casualties. For this and other research studies involving trauma and burns the Blockers received the Harvey Allen Award from the American Burn Association in 1971.

While continuing a full schedule of surgical operations, guiding an extensive program of research in plastic and reconstructive surgery, and teaching numerous students and residents, Blocker accepted increasingly more complex administrative assignments at UTMB. Between 1946 and 1964 he was variously director of postgraduate studies, director of the special surgical unit, director of hospitals, dean of the clinical faculty, chairman of the interim executive committee, and chairman of the department of surgery. He served as chief administrative officer of UTMB for ten years, first as executive director and dean (1964–67), then as president (1967–74). He encouraged the Shriners of North America to choose UTMB as the site of one of their three hospitals for the care of burned children. The Shriners Burns Institute opened in 1966 and is recognized as one of the outstanding facilities of its kind in the world. Blocker's diligence, vision, and persuasive powers occasioned unprecedented growth and expansion of UTMB's facilities and academic programs, transforming the medical school into an internationally recognized academic health-sciences center.

Blocker held numerous consultant positions with the Veterans Administration and the offices of the surgeons general of the United States Army and the United States Air Force. In 1953 he inspected medical installations in Korea and Japan. While he was in Hiroshima he lectured to medical students and performed plastic surgery on atomic bomb victims. His experience with burn therapy, his devotion to military medicine, and his interest in the treatment of mass casualties resulting from nuclear attacks led to his appointments to the Subcommittee on Burns (later Trauma) of the National Research Council, to the Surgery Study Section of the United States Public Health Service, and to the Advisory Panel on Medical Sciences of the Department of Defense.

Between 1937 and 1973 Blocker authored or coauthored 182 publications, most of which dealt with the care of burn victims. He was an active member of more than thirty professional groups. He received numerous awards from local, state, national, and international associations, including Distinguished Service awards from the American Society of Maxillofacial Surgeons and the American Board of Surgery. In 1983 former students established the Truman G. Blocker, Jr., Distinguished Chair in Plastic Surgery at UTMB. Dr. Blocker died at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston on May 17, 1984, from the effects of a stroke that he had suffered on New Year's Day. He was survived by his wife and four children. After his death the collections of rare books and historical artifacts in the Moody Medical Library at UTMB were renamed the Truman G. Blocker, Jr., History of Medicine Collections.

William C. Levin, "Truman G. Blocker, Jr.," The Bookman, July-August 1984.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Chester R. Burns, “Blocker, Truman Graves, Jr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 19, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994
April 16, 2019

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