Lonnie and Betty Burnett: Honoring His Mentors

At the very start, Dr. Lonnie Burnett's new mentors gave him a piece of advice—and a shining example—upon which he would build a career: "Pursue a niche."

It was 1957, and the newly minted M.D. had just arrived in Baltimore for his residency. Burnett was matched with Drs. Howard W. Jones Jr. and Georgeanna Seegar Jones in one of the country's first medical school mentoring programs, a chance meeting that led to a powerful and lasting friendship between the young surgeon and the physician couple who together were renowned for pioneering work in the fields of female endocrinology and infertility treatment.

"When I first met with them, my new mentors told me that as a doctor, I'd have to be very good at everything I did, but that it was also very important to pursue a niche and become one of the best at it in the world," says Burnett.

Heeding that advice, he went on to become a leading specialist in the fields of obstetrics and gynecology, where he is recognized for a number of surgical protocols that paved the way for modern procedures. Today, at age 82, he serves as the Frances and John C. Burch Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, continuing a distinguished career that included nearly two decades at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine as a surgeon and educator.

During his time on the Johns Hopkins faculty, Burnett developed a new treatment for a rare form of gynecologic cancer that had developed in the wife of colleague Dr. Conrad Julian. In the mid-1970s, there was no "accepted therapy" for treatment of this rare cancer, so Burnett assembled a wide-ranging team of people that included doctors from Canada and specialists in California. He was able to perform successful cancer surgery with the first-time protocol he and his team developed, and Mrs. Julian lived another seven years. When Dr. Julian died one year later, leaving behind a 13-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter, the Burnetts adopted the two children and raised them as their own.

Over the years, Burnett made a deliberate effort to continue the Joneses' legacies by mentoring new generations of physicians, at one point even working closely with the couple's son. To honor his mentors and extend their legacy, Burnett and his wife, Betty Pearle (Scruggs) Burnett, recently created a bequest to endow a professor position in the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The professorship will be named for Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones and, when the funds are received from the Burnetts' estate, will provide opportunities for the most promising scholar physicians to continue to make advances in the field the couple forged.

Together, the Joneses built a new field in American medicine and pioneered the first baby via in vitro fertilization in the United States. Georgeanna was the first full-time gynecological endocrinologist at a medical school, and Howard was one of the foremost pelvic surgeons of his generation. They established the country's first Division of Reproductive Endocrinology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and later the country's first in vitro fertilization clinic in Norfolk, Virginia. Georgeanna died in 2005 and Howard lives in Norfolk, remaining close friends with the Burnetts.

Burnett says his professional experience in Baltimore under his mentors' guidance led him to "all of the good things that happened to me in my life." They taught him "how to do things right." Thus, planning a bequest as a tribute to the couple was an easy decision. "They made such a difference in my life," he says, "and an even more significant difference on the world."

Gift vehicle used: Bequest

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