One of the many people we might describe as a "Rock" at Mayo Clinic shortly after entering the 20th century was Dr. Donald C. Balfour, an early associate with Drs. Will and Charlie Mayo. Born in Toronto Aug. 22, 1882, Balfour received his medical education at the University of Toronto and interned at Hamilton General Hospital in Ontario. He was interested in pathology and came to Rochester in 1907. He first worked as an assistant in pathology working under Dr. Louis B. Wilson and Dr. W.C. MacCarty.

In 1909, this young Canadian was appointed a junior surgeon and was given increasing responsibilities. In 1912, he became head of a section of general surgery. He was fascinated in a variety of operations ranging from tonsillectomies to thyroid gland surgery, varicose veins, hernias, diseases of the gallbladder and ducts, the spleen and gastrointestinal tract. But soon he became best known as a surgeon of the stomach and duodenum. Awards and recognition came to Balfour in his leadership and medical writings.

From 1929 to 1947 he was a member of the Mayo Clinic Board of Governors and he was chairman of the board from 1933 to 1936, working in earlier years along side of Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie Mayo. Balfour took a liking to Dr. Will and Hattie Mayo's daughter Carrie.

Balfour and Carrie were married May 28, 1910. She died December 13, 1960. He died three years later on July 25, 1963, at age 80. When he married Carrie, Dr. Charlie gave the couple a farm called Carinbrae — complete with a lake not very far from Dr. Charlie's farm and lake at Mayowood — southwest of Rochester on Salem Road. They became farmers "in residence only."

On his farm, Balfour's workers developed a herd of Holstein cattle, which ranked high in the area. Balfour sold the farm in 1961 after receiving the wedding gift a half century earlier.

All his life Balfour had a profound interest in music. He was an accomplished pianist and organist. He had an organ installed in the couple's home on Sixth Avenue Southwest, just off of Fourth Street. That organ today is in the chapel at Christ United Methodist Church in Rochester. After occupying their home for 50 years they gave the home to the Rochester Family YMCA. Today, it is the home of the Civic League Day Nursery.

Upon Balfour's death many lofty tributes were given. They could be summed up with: "He was a good man." Those tributes also included: "No one ever had as much interest in 'just people' as Dr. Balfour; That warm personality and friendliness did much to smooth the path of progress of the Mayo Clinic; He did more than anyone else for young doctors; He was the kindest man I ever knew."

No report on Dr. Donald Church Balfour is complete without emphasis on his generosity — not only financial but with his time in teaching and giving of himself in so many ways to so many people.

One of the Balfour daughters, Mary, married the late Henry Frederic Helmholz Jr., who died Jan. 6, 2012, at age 100. Their daughter, Martha Mayo Helmholz-Anderson, told me Balfour was a loving grandfather.

"However, I was afraid of him as a small child. But that all changed for me by the time he died when I was 20. He was such a fine organist and asked me to join him with the piano. I was so scared that I couldn't live up to him as he played "You'll Never Walk Alone," but we made it happen as I was so nervous."

Martha was very proud to say, "My great-grandfather was Dr. William James Mayo."

Next week: Cheap Charlie's famous pig is well-traveled.

Harley Flathers is a longtime Rochester-area broadcaster and historian. Got a comment for Harley? Send it to or to Harley at Post-Bulletin, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903.

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