Great Living Cincinnatians
John M. Tew, Jr., M.D.
Awarded in 2011
Since his arrival in 1969, John M. Tew, Jr. has made Cincinnati an international center for neurosurgery, while strengthening the community through broad involvement with the educational and cultural institutions that anchor and define our region.
Born on a farm in North Carolina of a mother who was unable to attend college and a father who did not finish high school, Tew wanted more. After two years at a local community college, he transferred to Wake Forest where he completed his undergraduate and medical school education. At the end of his first year of medical school, he was awarded the “best anatomist” prize, indicating his dexterity with tissue and his ability to confront the insides of the human body.
In a life-changing development, he won the prestigious Van Wagenen Fellowship, which allowed him to train under Gazi Yasargil, M.D., the founder of micro-neurosurgery, at the University of Zurich. There Tew learned to use the new operating microscope, which was making the treatment of deadly brain aneurysms predictably successful for the first time.
Dr. Frank H. Mayfield, himself a Great Living Cincinnatian, recruited Tew to the Mayfield Clinic in 1969. Tew served as professor and chairman of the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Neurosurgery for 20 years, while operating on more than 12,000 patients in 45 years. At the same time, he advanced the science of microsurgery, became the first person in Cincinnati to apply lasers in neurosurgery, helped introduce radiosurgery to Cincinnati for the treatment of brain tumors and vascular malformations, and helped introduce intraoperative MRI to North America.
He created the UC Neuroscience Institute in 1998, which now ranks among the top neuroscience centers in North America. Revered in his field, he has been elected president of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, president of the Academy of Neurological Surgeons, and president of the Ohio State Neurosurgical Society.
Dr. Tew has an amazing ability to connect with his patients, taking pride not only in their medical progress, but their total lives. He and Blake, a young man from Dayton with a brain tumor, first connected over their common commitment to cycling.
“Dr. Tew is really good at what he does, and he’s very caring on the personal level,” Blake says. “I’ve heard that a lot of prominent surgeons are very caught up in themselves. I don’t see Dr. Tew as being caught up in himself at all.”
Beyond the operating room and the classroom, Tew has served on numerous boards, including the Cincinnati Opera, the Cincinnati Museum Center, several boards at the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University. He and his wife Susan also are active and involved Catholics and, in 1989, were recognized with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal, an honor bestowed by Pope John Paul.