Tinker Tailor Surgeon Spy: Fletcher Derrick ’55

Alumni Profile: Fletcher Derrick '55

No one would suspect a urological surgeon to be a covert courier — even his wife.

“AS THE CIA SAYS, I was hiding in plain sight.”

After graduating from Clemson in 1955, Fletcher Derrick joined the Army as a young medical student at the Medical University of South Carolina and was sent to Fort Benning in Georgia for an internship. Following medical school, he traveled with the Army to Germany and continued his urology training there at a hospital in Landstuhl. When Derrick and his wife, Martha, returned to the U.S. with a new baby, Derrick began his four-year residency at MUSC, where he helped start the kidney transplant program.

Next came teaching and chairing the urology department at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., until Derrick finally settled back in Charleston, where he started his private practice. “Settled” is perhaps the wrong word because the Derricks traveled constantly for medical conferences and committee trips to places like Cambodia, Egypt, Scandinavia, Japan, Peru and Nepal, to name a few.

But Derrick’s work as a covert courier for U.S. Military Intelligence began long before this, when he was a medical intern at Fort Benning — at the height of the Cold War.

“The commanding officer called me in on what I thought was a routine check,” Derrick says. But after a few moments of small talk, the officer approached him with the courier position, which involved transporting and delivering sensitive documents around the globe during Derrick’s many travels. When asked if he would be in any danger, the officer replied, “Highly unlikely.” The next question was, “Can I think about it?”

“You have 24 hours. And you can’t tell a soul. Not even your wife.”

Derrick accepted. And it wasn’t until he wrote his book Surgeon Spy in 2016 that Martha Derrick was surprised to discover her husband’s secret life.

After serving as a courier for over 20 years, Derrick remembers the last package he ever delivered: “How they knew we were planning a trip to Italy, I’ll never know, but they called and said, ‘Package on the way.’ So, we traveled to Anzio and were visiting one of the art exhibits there. I was just looking at a mural on the wall when this major walks in. Seeing his nametag, I knew I had to deliver the package to him.

“He said, ‘I’ve been waiting on you!’”

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