Mass General celebrated the life of W. Gerald “Jerry” Austen, MD — a renowned cardiac surgeon and the hospital’s former chief of surgical services — on Sunday, May 6 at Boston Symphony Hall.

Austen passed away at Mass General — his second home — at the age of 92 on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, due to complications from metastatic melanoma. Even during his final moments, his sense of humor radiated, jokingly telling family he thought it was “finally time to retire.”

For 70 years, Austen was an integral part of the Mass General community, having completed his residency at the hospital and continuing to become one of the most distinguished and well-regarded physicians in the hospital’s more than 200-year history. At 39 years old, he was named Mass General’s chief of surgical services — a position he held for nearly 29 years. Under his leadership, the Department of Surgery became one of the greatest academic departments of surgery in the country. Among his many contributions, he was influential in the design and creation of a cardiopulmonary (heart-lung) bypass machine and the intra-aortic balloon pump. Austen was also the founding President and CEO of the MGPO, the first physician elected to the MGH Board of Trustees, and a founder of the Partners HealthCare system.

W. Gerald Austen, MD, works on early cardiovascular machinery
W. Gerald Austen, MD, works on early cardiovascular machinery.

In addition to his clinical work, Austen was a physician leader of philanthropy whose commitment to and passion for Mass General shined bright and were crucial to hospital’s success. He mentored several generations of division chiefs, department chairs, and MGH and MGPO presidents. In 2020, the W. Gerald Austen, MD, Building was named in his honor to recognize his six decades of leadership and service to Mass General.

Hundreds of Austen’s closest friends, colleagues and family members gathered at Boston Symphony Hall to commemorate his legacy. Numerous friends and colleagues — from David F.M. Brown, MD, Mass General president, to Peter L. Slavin, MD, former hospital president, and Mike Minogue, retired chairman, president and CEO of Abiomed — shared fond memories of Austen, further illustrating his unmatched and lasting impact on others.

It seems fitting that W. Gerald ‘Jerry’ Austen, MD, dedicated his life’s work to one of the most vital organs — the heart.

Special musical performances were coordinated by Austen family friend, Kim Taylor, including a surprise performance by Kim, her husband and Grammy Award winner James Taylor, and their son Henry.

Celebration was the theme of the afternoon, as everyone reminisced about how much Austen meant to them, both personally and professionally. Aside from being a beloved physician to his patients, the “Austen” name is synonymous with Mass General. You see it adorned on the side of buildings and above corridor entryways — a welcoming reminder for anyone who enters these spaces that they are in safe hands.

In a statement to Mass General staff, Brown and Marcela del Carmen, MD, president of the Massachusetts General Physicians Organization said:

Two individuals facing and talking to each other
Dr. Austen, at left, and Paul S. Russell, MD, right, another renowned MGH surgeon.

“It seems fitting that W. Gerald ‘Jerry’ Austen, MD, dedicated his life’s work to one of the most vital organs — the heart. For when we reflect upon Dr. Austen’s nearly seven decades of exceptional service to Mass General, we recognize and celebrate how he himself has been the heart of Mass General — through his immense contributions to the field of cardiac surgery, his unwavering dedication to improving the health and well-being of his patients, his steadfast commitment to training and supporting the next generation of clinicians and his deep support and love for each and every MGHer.”

The MGH community will continue to mourn the loss of such a giant in the medical world and will carry on Austen’s legacy through compassionate care and an unparalleled commitment to all patients.