Robert T. Soper, 52MD, was a skilled surgeon and an innovator in the field of pediatric medicine who devoted his distinguished University of Iowa career to improving the lives of children.
The first pediatric surgeon at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Soper also served for nearly 25 years as the only pediatric surgeon in the entire state. Indeed, until his death on October 3, 2012, Soper was deeply committed to the University of Iowa, the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, and the people of Iowa. Messages of sympathy on his online memory book reflect his lasting impact: "I thank Dr. Soper for saving my life."
A native Iowan, Soper served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and was on the destroyer that participated in the Tokyo Bay ceremony ending the war. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1949 from Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and went on to earn a medical degree from the UI. While in medical school, he was awarded membership in the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.
After completing postgraduate work in Cleveland and Mason City, he returned to the UI to finish his training in general surgery. He concluded his Iowa residency in 1958 and moved to Liverpool, England, for a one-year fellowship in pediatric surgeryŚwhich was just emerging as a new medical specialtyŚat Alder Hey Children's Hospital.
Soper returned to Iowa City to join the medicine faculty at the University of Iowa in 1959 and rose steadily through the ranks to become a full professor in 1968. His career in the UI Department of Surgery spanned nearly 40 years, during which time he established the UI Division of Pediatric Surgery and also served as the interim chair of the Department of Surgery from 1992 to1995. In that capacity, he was able to recruit outstanding surgeons and enhance the department's quality of teaching and patient service.
He influenced the world of medicine beyond Iowa, as well. A founding member of the American Pediatric Surgical Association, he lectured and taught throughout the world, devised new surgical methods for many pediatric conditions, and served on local, regional, and national committees. He also published hundreds of research papers, book chapters, and abstracts related to his research. Farther afield, he performed missionary work in the Congo and on a Navajo reservation.
Throughout his years at Iowa, Soper treated thousands of children, trained hundreds of medical students and dozens of surgeons, and inspired in his colleagues a dedication to learning and patient care. He received the prestigious Ernest Theilen Clinical Teaching and Service Award from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in 1996 and the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2006. In addition, the Robert T. and Helene J. Soper Chair of Surgery, the first endowed faculty position in the UI Department of Surgery, was established in honor of Soper and his wife in 1998.
Robert T. Soper's legacy as a skilled academic surgeon and a pioneer in pediatric medicine will forever shine in all of the patients and physicians whose lives he touched.
Soper was a member of the UI Alumni Association's Old Capitol Club and a member of the UI Foundation's Presidents Club.