Board of Trustees recently voted to name its education center and
library in memory of the school’s first provost and vice president of
academic affairs, James W. Colbert Jr., M.D. A dedication event is
scheduled for April 10.
Dr. James W. Colbert Jr.
Colbert joined MUSC in 1969 to oversee the school’s academic and
research programs in the newly created position of provost and vice
president for academic affairs. Layton McCurdy, M.D., dean emeritus of
the MUSC College of Medicine, described him as a “transformative
figure” who helped the university adopt the traditions of academic
medicine, a doctrine that seeks to improve patient care through
continual medical research and education.
“Having come from Yale and St. Louis, he understood academic medicine
in ways that we didn’t,” said McCurdy, who was chairman of the
university’s Department of Psychiatry at the time. “Our hospital had
only been open for about 15 years prior to his coming here, and we
hadn’t yet learned how to integrate academics with research and patient
care. He understood how to do that, in both a strategic and pragmatic,
Colbert served as assistant dean of the Yale University School of
Medicine from 1951 to 1953, dean of the St. Louis University School of
Medicine from 1953 to 1961, associate director of the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases from 1962 to 1969, and
director of the Advanced Planning Staff of the Surgeon General’s Office
of Program Planning and Evaluation from 1967 to 1968.
Colbert is also remembered for his role in negotiating a peaceful
resolution to a volatile and racially divisive hospital workers strike
that placed Charleston and MUSC on the front line of the nation’s civil
rights movement in 1969. Colbert died in a plane crash in Charlotte,
N.C., on Sept. 11, 1974, with two of his sons, Peter and Paul. He was
survived by his wife, Lorna, and nine children: Jim, Ed, Mary, Bill,
Margo, Tom, Jay, Elizabeth and Stephen, who today is an actor and host
of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.”
MUSC President Ray Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., said the decision to name
the university’s Education Center and Library Building in Colbert’s
memory was motivated by the desire to recognize the enduring, formative
influence he had on the institution.
“In many ways, Dr. Colbert helped the Medical University become the
diverse, first-rate academic medical center it is now,” Greenberg
said. “He took what was a little understood concept on our campus
at the time—interdisciplinary health care—and turned it into a model
that thoroughly permeates our culture today. I can’t think of a more
fitting tribute than to have his name on our education center and
A native of New York City, Colbert graduated from the College of Holy
Cross and received his medical degree in 1945 from the Columbia
University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He completed his
internship at Bellevue Hospital in New York and served in the Army
Medical Corps in Europe.
Friday, April 3, 2009