It all started out innocently enough. On a family vacation, Dr. Benson “Ben” Wilcox (1932-2010) wandered into a local bookstore and found an old medical book in Latin by Boerhaave, a Dutch physician after whom “Boerhaave Syndrome” was named — a condition well known to Dr. Wilcox as a thoracic surgeon. And so, much to the benefit of users of the UNC Health Sciences Library (HSL), began his love of collecting books.
To keep the collection’s size manageable, Dr. Wilcox decided to focus primarily on books in English about thoracic surgery, a relatively “new” field with about 100 years of literature. The collection began to grow with first editions of about 25 of the classic thoracic surgery texts, and it expanded to books about thoracic diseases, anatomy, and physiology which preceded the development of thoracic surgery as a specialty.
In 1984, Dr. Wilcox began presenting a rare book to the library each year in honor of his senior resident, a practice he continued until his retirement as Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at UNC. The collection grew to over 1,400 books, journals, reprints, and other items, many of which are extremely rare. Realizing the magnitude of his collection, the requirements for maintaining and organizing the material, and ultimately, the value it might have for others as well, Dr. Wilcox generously gave his collection to the HSL, creating The Wilcox Collection.
The major areas represented in the Wilcox Collection are cardiothoracic medicine and surgery, tuberculosis, military medicine, surgery, and history of medicine, ensuring that the HSL’s holdings rank among the best in the country. The oldest book in the Wilcox Collection is a 1526 edition of the Works of Hippocrates.
On January 14, 2011, the HSL hosted a dedication ceremony to formally rename the Historical Collections Reading Room as “The Benson Reid Wilcox Historical Collections Reading Room.”