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James W. Brooks, MD, 1922-2008

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dr. James W. Brooks, Emeritus Professor of Surgery at the Medical College of Virginia, passed away on September 27, 2008 at the age of 86 after a brief illness. Born on February 20, 1922 to Samuel Carroll and Linda Carruthers Brooks in Round Hill, Virginia, he was subsequently raised in Winchester, Virginia. Following his high school education at Handley High School, he received his Bachelor of Science from The Citadel in June 1943. He received his MD degree from the Medical College of Virginia in March 1946, and was a member of Alpha Omega Alpha Society. From 1946 - 1947, he served his internship at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, where he met his future wife, Vina. They both worked with Dr. Evarts Graham – she his dedicated OR scrub nurse1, he the hard-working intern. 

Dr. Brooks served his country faithfully as Captain in the United States Army from 1947 until 1949 at Walter Reed Hospital. He then went back to MCV where he first did a surgery research fellowship studying the treatment of burn injuries from 1949 until 1951, and continued on with his surgery residency and fellowship from 1951 to 1956. Following this, he completed a fellowship in Thoracic Surgery at the University of Wisconsin in 1957.

For over 50 years, Dr. Brooks has been one of the most loyal and ardent supporters of the Medical College of Virginia. A pillar of the Institution and the Richmond area, Dr. Brooks’ love and respect for friends, faculty, residents, students, colleagues and patients were universally mutual. Since 1957, he has been on the faculty at the Medical College of Virginia as a Thoracic and Vascular Surgeon. In 2000, he was appointed Emeritus Professor of Surgery and remained active in teaching, patient care and committee membership until the time of his death. He was a member of many local, regional and national medical societies. He served as past president of the Richmond Area Heart Association from 1968-1969, the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association from 1975-1976, and the American College of Chest Physicians, Potomac Chapter from 1979-1980. He published many articles on basic scientific and clinical information gained from his years of research and clinical practice and he authored numerous chapters in surgical textbooks.

Those of us who remember Dr. Brooks recall warmly that he was a creature of habit. His classic appearance was unforgettable: the scrub hat with the ties cut and the back ends folded up like wings; wearing his scrub pants backwards so as to hook his stethoscope on his belt and the diaphragm end in the pocket; his glasses hanging near the end of his nose; the white towel draped around his neck; and the Dove soap bar at the scrub sink. And other fond memories:  Prompt evening rounds scrambling to get all the service patients x-rays hung; his daily chocolate fix with a Hershey bar; weekly thoracic conference trying to outwit our medical colleagues; writing in the chart with green ink; his dislike of stapling instruments; renaming residents and students whose names he could not pronounce; the "Citadel" sticker-laden brief case; and his colorful collection of bowties. Last but not least, his passion on autumn weekends included many trips to our nation’s capital for more than 40 years to "hail" the Washington Redskins. 

He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Vina Isach Brooks, as well as children, Susan Brooks Wyman and husband, Andrew, James Webster Brooks Jr. and wife, Deborah, Linda Brooks Talley of Washington, D.C., and Scott Carruthers Brooks of Knoxville, Tennessee; brother, Samuel Carroll Brooks Jr. and wife, Elfriede of Steamboat Springs, Colorado; grandchildren, Christopher Bernard Duke, Brooke Wyman Killgo and husband, Adam, Sarah DeKalb Wyman, Emily Carter Brooks, Jackson Connor Brooks, and Melissa Carrington Brooks; and numerous other nieces and nephews.

Hence, we "hail" Dr. Brooks not only for being an outstanding teacher, clinician and surgeon, but also for his consummate professionalism - a true southern gentleman, a role model for all to emulate. Perhaps his biggest contribution to medicine is reflected in the countless number of students, residents, and fellows that he trained. Although he dedicated more than half of his life to teaching and the healing of others, his true passion was his family. His smile, the twinkle in his eyes and his contagious sense of humor delighted his family, friends, patients, and colleagues. He professed a love of God and country, and along with the Redskins, he enjoyed golfing with family and friends, and long warm August days at Virginia Beach. He was a wonderful human being, husband, daddy, grandfather and friend, and an inspiration to all who had the privilege of knowing him. He was blessed to have a second home and family at the Medical College of Virginia. He truly loved the Institution and all that it represents as well as everyone he had the privilege of working with over the past 51 years.

Words at his memorial that probably summed him up the best:

The smile that is never forgotten…
The stories shared time and again…
The love that is treasure forever…
And the comfort of precious memories.

1Brooks VI. Memories of a scrub nurse. Ann Thorac Surg 1996;62:600.

Stephen C. Yang, MD 
Arthur B. and Patricia B. Modell 
Professor of Thoracic Surgery 
The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Baltimore, MD USA

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