Nov. 21-Dec. 4, 2003
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The Good Doctor
For nearly half a century, Frank McCue has been the athlete’s best friend

By Robert Viccellio

Frank C. McCue III
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
Though McCue is officially retired, he is still a fixture at U.Va. athletic events.

Amid fan belts, wrenches and cans of motor oil, a group of high school athletes and their coaches gather in the back of a service station in the small town of Crewe. It’s not long before the doctor from out of town arrives to examine the athletes, all of whom are nursing sports-related injuries. After he completes his diagnoses, Frank C. McCue III — internationally recognized orthopedic surgeon and sports-medicine pioneer — gets back on the road to bring his medical expertise to yet another group of athletes.

While that filling station was one of the more unusual settings in which McCue examined patients, it exemplifies a hallmark of his career: the willingness to be available to anyone, any time and any place. Over the years, McCue, 72, has treated thousands of high school and college athletes from all over the state, most of them at no charge. In fact, he has treated so many high school students for free that the Virginia High School Coaches Association named its annual sports-medicine award for him. Before other colleges had their own team orthopedists, they would send their injured athletes to McCue, whom they dubbed the “miracle man.”

For decades, McCue’s medical barnstorming was a necessity. “There weren’t many orthopedic surgeons in the state back then, and doctors just weren’t interested in taking care of athletes,” McCue said.

Though he’s revered for his generosity, McCue’s main work and greatest passion has been at the University of Virginia, where he’s trained young doctors and cared for Cavalier athletes for more than 40 years.

McCue received his undergraduate degree from U.Va. in 1952, and then stayed in Charlottesville to attend medical school and complete his residency. During his last year of medical school, he agreed to assist Lou Onesty, the Cavaliers’ only trainer, who was stretched thin with various coaching responsibilities.

After a two-year hand-surgery fellowship in California, McCue returned to the University in 1961. He’s been a fixture ever since.

During his career, McCue has been a professor of orthopedic surgery and the director of U.Va.’s Division of Sports Medicine and Hand Surgery. His work as team physician, however, has been an unpaid labor of love. “I coached at two other schools, and Frank was the only team doctor who came to most of the practices,” said former U.Va. football coach George Welsh. “He just wanted to be there.”

McCue enjoys the rare honor of working in a building that bears his name. “I never thought I’d have anything named after me other than my son,” he said with characteristic humility. Yet without his involvement, the McCue Center — U.Va.’s athletics-support facility — would not have been finished as quickly.

“He’s really what got this building built,” said Joe Gieck, director of Sports Medicine, who has worked alongside McCue since 1962. “We didn’t have the money raised until we started putting forth his name. The money then came in overnight. That shows you the respect that people have for him and the number of things that he’s done for people.”

“He does things out of care and love for the players, not just because he’s the doctor and that’s his job,” said Anthony Poindexter, graduate assistant football coach and a former All-American safety at Virginia whose 1998 senior season was cut short by a severe knee injury that was repaired by McCue. “Everything he does, he does it from the heart. You’d think it was a fairy tale if somebody told you about Doc McCue. You’d think that there’s no way in the world that anybody could be that kind and generous.”

Legions of doctors also have benefited from their association with McCue. Jim Andrews, an orthopedic surgeon in Birmingham, Ala., was one of McCue’s students while a U.Va. medical resident in the 1970s.
“Frank McCue could be considered a father to me relative to my sports-medicine career,” Andrews told the Richmond Times-Dispatch when the McCue Center was dedicated in 1991. “He gave me the guidance early on to understand, in more than one way, how athletes think and how to talk to them and how to motivate them. Of course, the surgical skills of Frank McCue are second to none.”

Andrews isn’t alone in his reverence for McCue. A group of the doctor’s former residents and fellows, along with professors, doctors and trainers, formed the McCue Society in 1987. With a membership numbering in the thousands, the society provides scholarships and meets annually to share the latest advances in sports medicine.

Although McCue officially retired last spring, he can still be found on the sidelines or in his office every day. “I get at least 10 calls a day from coaches, patients, friends and doctors,” he said. “They know I’m not operating anymore, but they want some advice.”


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