Honoring the legacy of Mary Booth Steward, M.D.

By Sharon Reynolds

Dr. Rachelle Makinde (second from right) is honored as the recipient of the first Mary Booth Steward, M.D. Memorial Award. Congratulating her are (from left), Dr. Charles Whitten, Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Management; Caroline Cammack; Dr. Ravi Bhoja; and Dr. Catherine Barden.

The brilliant career of Mary Booth Steward, M.D., will be recognized through the establishment of the Mary Booth Steward, M.D. Resident Training Fund to support the education of residents in the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Management at UT Medical Center. The endowed fund has been established with a $20,000 donation made through the Whit Cammack Foundation by Caroline Cammack, Executive Director, and daughter of Dr. Steward.

In addition, the Mary Booth Steward, M.D. Memorial Award will be presented annually to one graduating anesthesiology resident who demonstrates compassion, professionalism, and humanism—all of the intangible, humanistic qualities embodied by Dr. Steward.

Others would describe her mother as the most caring, loving individual who ever touched their lives, said Ms. Cammack. Dr. Steward was extremely devoted to her parents, who came from humble beginnings and instilled a wonderful work ethic in her and her three siblings.

“My mother’s big Greek family was quite something,” said Ms. Cammack. “My maternal grandparents were immigrants who came through Ellis Island with nothing but a few cents in their pockets. My grandfather owned a candy kitchen, where he worked for more than 30 years. My parents both grew up in Abilene and met each other later in life. My father, James, was a petroleum landman, and they also had another daughter—my sister, Christina.”

Mary Steward (second row, far right in white) is pictured in 1945 with her Southwestern Medical College freshman class. Image provided by the UT Southwestern archives.

Mary Booth graduated from nursing school and worked as a nurse for a short time, but soon set her sights on medical school. At the time, her older brother had already gone to medical school and her younger brother would soon follow in his tracks. She decided to embark on a career in medicine when it was not commonplace for women to work.

After graduating from Southwestern Medical College in 1949, Dr. Steward practiced pediatrics for a short time, but returned to complete an anesthesiology residency. She would become the first female resident in anesthesia at Parkland Hospital and UT Southwestern Medical Center, the first female anesthesiologist in Taylor County, and one of the first female physicians in Abilene. Her anesthesiology career at Hendrick Memorial Hospital in Abilene spanned 33 years.

Dr. Charles Whitten, Chair, and Dr. Ravi Bhoja, Associate Professor, both from the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Management, are grateful for this gift that will keep Dr. Steward’s legacy alive at UT Southwestern. 

Drs. Nellie R. Luhn (left) and Mary Steward, both residents in anesthesiology, pose with Dr. Pepper Jenkins (right), circa 1950. Image provided by the UT Southwestern archives.

“As the first resident graduate of the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Management at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dr. Steward set an extraordinary standard for all subsequent residents who would train in this program,” said Dr. Whitten. “She completed her residency in mid-1950 and epitomized this new program that defined the legacy of its founder, M.T. “Pepper” Jenkins, M.D.  Subsequently, Dr. Steward moved west to serve adult and pediatric patients of Abilene as an anesthesiologist.”

“When she worked with children, they were most often very frightened,” said Ms. Cammack. “My mother would tell her patients, ‘I’m going to give you a little bit of medicine and you’re going to feel sleepy. But when you wake up, you’re going to have a surprise!’ She would tape dimes and nickels onto their hands and foreheads with surgical tape. She became famous for doing that.”

Ms. Cammack is grateful for the comfort and support she received from her mother throughout her life, especially after losing her only child, Whit, in 2007 at the age of 18. She lost her father shortly thereafter in December 2012, followed by the death of Dr. Steward in December 2014.

“Loss impacts your life forever. I had to do something to memorialize Whit, to show that he was on this earth, and that he meant more than anything in the world to me. I started the Whit Cammack Foundation in his memory. I wanted to honor my mother because I felt she achieved so much in her life. She was a pioneer, a pathfinder. I decided to honor both of their memories by creating the Mary Booth Steward, M.D. Resident Training Fund with a gift from the Whit Cammack Foundation.”

Caroline Cammack created the Whit Cammack Foundation in memory of her beloved son, Whit.

“I always called my mother ‘the fighter pilot’ because that’s how she was,” she said. “Nothing could set her back. She was always an inspiration to me in her benevolence and in the way she treated people. Everyone admired her because of her kindness. I hope with this gift, anesthesiology residents are able to go farther and be very successful in memory of my mother, and that she will, in spirit, be with them on their journey.”