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Dr. J. Willis Hurst, LBJ’s cardiologist, passes away

By   /   October 3, 2011  /   Comments

J. Willis Hurst, MD, world-renowned cardiologist from Georgia and beloved teacher, mentor, husband, father and grandfather, passed away Saturday, Oct. 1, after a brief illness He was 90.

He was preceded in death by Nelie Hurst, his devoted wife of sixty-one years. He is survived by three sons, John, Steve and Phil, and their extended families.

An outstanding teacher and writer, Dr. Hurst was also an internationally recognized clinician, having served as personal cardiologist to former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as other government leaders.

Dr. Hurst graduated from the University of Georgia in 1941. He then graduated from the Medical College of Georgia, where he was first in his class, in 1944. He was an intern and first year resident under V. P. Syndenstricker, the well known Chief of Medicine at the University Hospital in Augusta, Georgia, from 1944 to 1946.

He entered the Army and served at Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver. He then became a Cardiology fellow with Dr. Paul White, the father of american academic cardiology, at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

He joined the Emory faculty in 1950. In 1954 he was recalled into the armed services and was assigned to the United States Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, where he became Chief of Cardiology. He was discharged in 1955 with the rank of Commander. While serving at the naval hospital he was responsible for the care of many senators and congressmen. Among them was Lyndon Baines Johnson. They became friends and Dr. Hurst became his cardiologist for the next 18 years, including through his presidency and afterwards.

Dr. Hurst returned to Emory in 1955 and was appointed Professor and Chairman of the Department of Medicine in 1957 at the age of 36. He remained in that position for 30 years. In the early 1960s, he established Emory’s continuing medical education program in cardiology, which secured the school’s reputation in teaching, attracting cardiologists from around the world to learn how to do procedures being pioneered and perfected at Emory. Dr. Hurst also was a founding architect of The Emory Clinic.

Throughout his 55-year career at Emory’s medical school, he taught more than 5,000 medical students and 2,500 residents and fellows — roughly a fifth of all doctors currently practicing in Georgia. He received the highest teaching awards from the American College of Cardiologists and the American College of Physicians. At Emory he was a past recipient of the Crystal Apple teaching award, and in 2003, the residency training program in medicine was named in his honor.

Dr. Hurst authored or edited almost 400 scientific articles and over 60 books. The most famous of his scholarly writings is The Heart, which is the most widely used cardiology textbook in the world, first published in 1966 and translated into more than five languages. He believed deeply in the power of good teaching, and worked to have a long term and positive influence on students, house officers, and fellows. He also wrote two novels with his son and one book for children with his grandson, Stuart Hurst, who recently graduated from Emory’s School of Medicine and is now a resident at Emory University Hospital.

Dr. Hurst received many awards and honors throughout his distinguished career. He was president of the American Heart Association, Chairman of the Subspecialty Board of Cardiology, served on the Advisory Council of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and was President of the Association of Professors of Medicine.

Dr. Hurst will be greatly missed by all of us whose lives he so graciously and positively touched.

The family will receive friends on Friday, October 7, from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. at H.M. Patterson & Son-Spring Hill Chapel, 1020 Spring Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30309.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, October 8, at Northside United Methodist Church, 2799 Northside Drive, Atlanta, GA 30305. There will be a gathering for family and friends immediately following the service.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be directed to the J. Willis Hurst Internal Medicine Residency Program, Emory University, 1440 Clifton Road NE, WHSCAB 170, Atlanta, GA, 30322.

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About the author

Owner / Editor / Writer

Tom Knighton is the publisher of The Albany Journal. In November, 2011, he became the first blogger to take over a newspaper anywhere in the world. In August of 2012, he made the difficult decision to take the Journal out of print circulation and become an online news agency, a first for the Albany area.

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