Joseph R. Shaeffer, surgeon, school administrator, and specialist in disaster medicine, was born in Ballston Spa, New York, on October 15, 1903. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Cornell University in 1925 and an M.D. from Cornell University Medical College in 1928. After an internship at the Hospital for Special Surgery and a residency at Bellevue General Hospital, both in New York City, Shaeffer began practice in that city and joined the faculty in surgery at the New York University School of Medicine. In 1942, the year he was certified by the American Board of Surgery, he entered the United States Army. He served as chairman of the department of surgery at several major army hospitals before retiring in January 1959 with the rank of colonel. He immediately joined the staff at Santa Rosa Medical Center in San Antonio as director of medical education. Shaeffer also served as an assistant dean of the University of Texas South Texas Medical School and a member of the faculty of Baylor University Postgraduate School of Medicine. He was a consultant on disaster medicine and planning for the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the American College of Surgeons, the United States Public Health Service, the United States Office of Civil Defense, and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. He was the editor of the official disaster medicine manual of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. His work in the military and at Santa Rosa included over 750,000 miles of travel, during which he lectured to physicians, armed forces personnel, health officials, and community leaders. During Hurricane Carla (see HURRICANES) he was responsible for the care of 20,000 residents evacuated from the Texas Gulf Coast.
In 1962 Shaeffer was named Outstanding Citizen of San Antonio by the city's Council of Presidents. In 1964 he was named Texas Volunteer of the Year by the Texas Division of the American Cancer Society in recognition of his contributions to cancer control, including service on the society's national board and two terms as president of the Bexar County unit. He was a member of the Bexar County Medical Society, the Texas Medical Association, the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, the Texas Surgical Society, and the International Medical Assembly of Southwest Texas. He was a president of the Second District, Texas Chapter, of the American College of Surgeons, and a member of the board of directors and medical director for disaster of the Bexar County Chapter of the American Red Cross. On September 9, 1928, Shaeffer married Frances H. Burns in Charleston, West Virginia. They had two sons. Shaeffer died of cancer on August 11, 1966, at Brooke Army Medical Center. He was active in cancer education and patient support until the end of his life; shortly before his death he left the hospital for a few hours to accept the Annual National Division Award of the American Cancer Society for his contribution to cancer control.