Denton Cooley, the world-famous heart surgeon, died Friday at the age of 96. Gregory L. Fenves, president of the University of Texas, where Cooley majored in zoology and graduated in 1941 with honors, released the following statement:
“Denton Cooley created new standards of care and drove changes in medicine that improved and saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients around the world. The University of Texas prepares leaders who can benefit society and improve the world — none more so than Dr. Cooley, who continued to give back throughout his life. His legacy on campus and throughout the world will be felt for generations.”
As the Houston Chronicle reported in this obituary, Cooley attended UT on a basketball scholarship. He lettered for three years and was a member of the team when it won the Southwest Conference in 1939.
UT’s basketball teams practice in the Denton A. Cooley Pavilion just south of the Erwin Center, where home games are played.
The Chronicle story recounts that Rick Barnes, when he was UT’s men’s basketball coach, once invited Cooley to address the team. The surgeon’s sense of humor and his lifetime achievements stood out for Barnes.
“There have been basketball players that have come through UT that have done more for the sport,” Barnes said. “But when you look at his contributions to society, it’s really quite astonishing.”
After graduating from UT, Cooley enrolled at the UT Medical Branch at Galveston and later transferred to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he earned his medical degree.