James T. Willerson M.D.
1939 - 2020
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James T. Willerson, MD
1939-2020
On Wednesday, the 16th of September 2020, a void was left in the world of cardiovascular medicine with the passing of Dr. James T. Willerson from cancer.
Dr. Willerson was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of The University of Texas at Austin where he was a four-year swimming letterman, a member of the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity, and the Texas Cowboys. Dr. Willerson was an AOA graduate of Baylor College of Medicine. He received his postgraduate training at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston. Dr. Willerson was the President Emeritus, Director of Cardiology Research, and Co-Director of the Cullen Cardiovascular Research Laboratories at the Texas Heart® Institute (THI) at CHI St. Luke's Health-Baylor St. Luke's at the time of his death.
As one of the longest-serving Editor-in-Chiefs of "Circulation," a prestigious journal of the American Heart Association, his tenure lasted 11 years. In addition to having served on numerous editorial boards for professional publications, he edited or co-edited 27 textbooks and published more than 1,030 scientific articles in major scientific journals. He served as visiting professor and invited lecturer at more than 260 institutions worldwide.
For Dr. Willerson, patients always came first. With a practice of more than 3,000, he saw patients daily until shortly before his passing, despite the Covid-19 virus. His ability to correctly diagnose and treat patients was widely known. Every patient of Dr. Willerson felt as though they were his top priority, a friend, and knew they were in the very best of hands.
His research concentrated on the detection and treatment of unstable atherosclerotic plaques, and the discovery of the genes and abnormal proteins responsible for cardiovascular disease. As a result of discoveries in his research, Dr. Willerson was awarded 15 patents. He co-founded four Bio-Technology start-up companies in cardiovascular medicine translating his team's discoveries into clinical practice. His accolades and awards are too numerous to list, but represent the highest achievement in cardiology practice, research, and leadership at a global level.
Dr. Willerson was a proud and loving father and is survived by two daughters, Sara Willerson and Dr. Amy Willerson; Sara's partner, Brian Wood, and Amy's husband, Christopher Suerth; three grandchildren, James, Grace, and Thomas Suerth; his former wife, Nancy Beamer Willerson, to whom he was married for 43 years; his brother, Dr. Darrell Willerson, Jr. and his wife Susie DeSanders Willerson of San Antonio; Walter Driver, Jr. of Atlanta, Georgia, husband of Dr. Willerson's beloved deceased sister Bettie Willerson Driver. He is also survived by five cousins, Eleanor Oliver Petty and her husband Scott, and Diana Morehouse of San Antonio; Bill Blair, Anne Collier, and Ricky Blair of Dallas; three nephews, William Willerson III of Houston, James Willerson of San Antonio, and Walter Driver III of California; and two nieces, Eleanor Driver Post and Anna Driver Wick of Atlanta, Georgia.
Dr. Willerson was very appreciative of the dedicated help of Ms. Suzy Lanier, Editor and Executive Assistant to him for over 22 years; Ms. Mae Thomas, dedicated nurse and clinical assistant to him in the THI clinic for 20 years; Mrs. Marcia Strauss, dedicated Executive Assistant to him for more than 9 years; Dr. Amany Ahmed, Scribe and Clinical Assistant to him for more than 12 years; and Mr. Wally Daou, friend and close personal assistant for more than seven years. He was very grateful to his many colleagues such as Dr. O.H. Frazier, Dr. Emerson Perin, Dr. James Martin and Dr. John Stroehlen, and his many students and patients for their caring and dedicated support. He was grateful for the many years of financial research support from the American Heart Association and the National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, and to Ms. Janice McNatt and Ms. Judy Ober for assisting him for more than 20 years each as research technicians. His family is grateful for the support and care provided by Dr. Jay Davis of the River Oaks Doctor's Group and Concierge Clinicians of Houston, led by Danielle Riley with Sharon Cherry, Cindy Watson, Eunice Jackson, Jane Collins, Colton Grissett, Daniel Guerrero, and Adeja Giles.
A private celebration of life service honoring his life will be conducted at eleven o'clock in the morning on Saturday, the 10th of October, at The Church of St John the Divine, 2450 River Oaks Boulevard in Houston. A video stream of the service will be available at www.sjd.org.
Prior to the service, the family will have gathered for a private interment.
In lieu of customary remembrances, the family requests with gratitude that memorial contributions in Dr. Willerson's memory be directed to the James T. Willerson Center for Cardiovascular Modeling and Simulation at The University of Texas at Austin, The Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Disease (IMM) at UT Health Houston, The University of Texas at Austin Swimming Team, Phi Gamma Delta fraternity at U.T. Austin, the Texas Heart Institute, or to The Church of St. John the Divine in Houston.
Please visit Dr. Willerson's online memorial tribute at GeoHLewis.com where memories and words of comfort and condolence may be shared electronically with his family.
"Well done, good and faithful servant"
-Matthew 25:23





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Published in Houston Chronicle on Sep. 20, 2020.
MEMORIAL EVENTS
OCT
10
Celebration of Life
11:00 AM
Memories & Condolences
Guest Book sponsored by Geo. H. Lewis & Sons Funeral Directors
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22 entries
October 12, 2020
R.I.P This was the last letter I sent to Dr. Willerson, I hope he read it.
I don’t know where to start. I just wanted to show my appreciation towards you because of how much you have helped me in my life. I remember it was because of diabetic and heart conditions that my grandmother went through. This was around my fourth grade of elementary school and I barely knew what I even wanted to do in the future. I was so lost and confused when it came to choose an occupation that I would be interested but that changed when I met you. There were many problems that my grandma endured, and she survived them because of you and your amazing team. It was so inspiring for me to watch you work so hard to save my family from these horrible diseases and conditions. You have impacted my life and in many ways. You have supported me and brought the best out of myself. You have shown me that anything is possible if I can just work hard. You have inspired me to become a cardiologist because of what you did for my family. I appreciate you for letting me be an intern at your job and observing your hard work. It really means a lot to me that you helped a 15 years old Ethiopian and African American kid that has big dreams. Now I am a junior at high school going to college focusing on pre-med. I thank you for all the hard work you have put into many people's lives so that they can live in peace.
Iyosias
October 10, 2020
Dear mentor and friend,
You will be greatly missed by us all.
Denzil & Helen D’Souza
Friend
October 10, 2020
Dr. Willerson was and remains for me a hero, a giant hero of Medicine and Cardiology. He was the first person I have met when we came to the USA and who directly and indirectly help me and my wife in our academic carriers. He convinced us to remain and stay in this beautiful country, offering me unprecedented opportunities to learn and grow professionally. I was in the middle of my carrier when I have met him, but his genuine dedication to patients care, his unmatched energy put into research, education and editorial work endeavors embedded into an innate humbleness, impressed me deeply. Never seen someone like him before or since. I had the honor and luck to learn from him, and to work with him. Dr. Willerson, please receive my profound gratitude. May you rest in peace.
Eddy Barasch, MD
Eddy Barasch
Coworker
October 10, 2020
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Denzil DSouza
October 10, 2020
Dr. Willerson has been a mentor to us for 28 years. We still remembered his meeting with us in Boston to convince us to move to Houston in 1991. After we arrived at Texas Medical Center, Jim always championed our accomplishments. He was resolute in supporting us through our careers. He was also kind to our son who still remembers Dr. Willerson’s encouragement. Dr. Willerson has a big heart and a tireless determination to turn dreams into reality. With his passing, a giant tree that provided shelter for so many has fallen. We will miss his calm words, gentle manner, and the boundless enthusiasm about LIFE that he wants to share with everyone.
Hui-Ming Chang & Edward Yeh
October 9, 2020
My deepest condolences to the family of Dr Willerson . I am and will be thankful for his help while doing my cardiology fellowship in Dallas 42 yeas ago as a foreign student . I never forgot his teaching and his human approach to patients.
Carlos and Isabel Izquierdo
Student
October 7, 2020
I had the great good fortune to know Jim for 42 years, first as a Cardiology fellow, then as a fellow faculty member for more than a decade while he was chief of Cardiology at UT Southwestern Medical School, and subsequently. He was my single most important mentor who enabled and encouraged me to grow both personally and professionally, not only in academia but also in the business world thereafter. More than that, Jim was a friend who I trusted and admired for his integrity and kindness to all. I told him many years ago that these were the attributes, rather than his scientific accomplishments, that really set him apart in my mind. He was a very special man, who was driven yet remained humble, no matter to what heights he rose. Margaret and I extend our sincere condolences to Sarah, Amy and Nancy. He will always have a special place in our hearts.

Brian G. Firth, MB, D.Phil, FACC, FRCP
Dr Brian Firth
Friend
October 6, 2020
A final thank you to Dr. Willerson. Over 25 years you granted us health and guided us through dangerous health situations and fixed them right away.
Thank you again, we will keep you in our memories and rest in peace,
Angelika C. Schmidt-Lange and Wolfgang Schmidt
Wolfgang Schmidt
September 30, 2020
Dr Willerson and his most excellent team saved my husband's life with a TAVR. A few months later I developed angina. I saw two doctors in the San Antonio area. Both of them gave me bad advice. So I went to Houston and Dr. Willerson and his team sorted me out. I ended up having a CABG which surely saved my life as well. He was the only one that took me seriously. He made a correct diagnosis and proper treatment. I will be forever grateful.
He was a tremendous doctor.
I am so sorry for your loss.
Mary Rogers
Friend
September 23, 2020
Dr. Willerson, not only accurately diagnosed my dad Al Kocurek correctly, but he extended his life beyond all expectations to the age of 92. It was a true miracle. His genius will be sincerely missed by all who knew him. Our deepest sympathy to the Willerson family.
Karol Bruton
Father
September 23, 2020
Dr. Willerson was fiercely brilliant, faithfully kind and fantastically skilled as a scientist and physician. We could fill our hearts with superlatives until the end of days and it would not be adequate. So many loved him and miss him. I had the good fortune to work with him for a number of years as director of public affairs at THI. He especially loved his UT Longhorns, so much so that he wore it branded on his chest. Hook'em in Heaven, Jim! He also was very fond of Winston Churchill. In numerous speeches I helped him write I could always count him, saying, "where's my Churchill quote? Find me some Churchill!" So, in that vein and paraphrasing Churchill I will say that Jim Willerson truly had the heart of the lion and I was fortunate to have helped him give the roar. Good bless, Dr. Willerson.
Frank Michel
Friend
September 22, 2020
Sending my condolences to the family of Dr. Willerson. He was a great Doctor and friend through the years. He will be missed. Job well done!
Rodney Ellis
Friend
September 22, 2020
In loving memory of a faithful mentor, I will love you and miss you always.
Shengkun Yao
Student
September 22, 2020
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shengkun Yao
September 22, 2020
It was a pleasure to work with Dr. Willerson when he served as president of the UT Health Science Center at Houston and I served as his assistant vp for public affairs (2001-2006). He was committed to putting the UTHSC-H on the map, and was always open to new ideas for promotion, marketing, fundraising events, etc. His work ethic was legendary, and he was generous with his appreciation for a job well done. As a Texas Aggie, I enjoyed bantering with him over college football. When I was recruited to the University of Southern California, he gifted me with one of his treasured longhorn statues. It was quite an honor for me -- and a great irony for my maroon blood. I send my deepest sympathy to Dr. Willerson's two daughters, Nancy, and all the family. He was one of a kind.
Jane Brust
Coworker
September 22, 2020
I was so sad to hear that Dr. Willerson passed away last week. I was recruited by Dr. Willerson to UTHealth 21 yrs ago. He was a great mentor, collaborator and friend. As a visionary leader, Dr. Willerson contributed to modern medicine, science and technology in multiple fronts. It was Dr. Willerson encouraged me to seek novel research ideas, such as stem cell biology in post-infarct cardiovascular regeneration. I recalled how excited he was so when he saw beating heart muscle cells derived from stem cells in my lab. He promptly mobilized and assembled a research team performing both basic and clinical stem cell research. Under his leadership, we conducted, for the first time, clinical trial for treatment of end-stage heart failure with adult bone marrow cells. We filed our first patent for stem cell protection in atherosclerosis and heart diseases and received the allowance by US Patent office. Dr. Willerson was an international leader in stem cells and regenerative medicine. We will forever remember him deeply in our hearts.
Yong-Jian Geng
Coworker
September 21, 2020
I am loss for words I worked with Dr. Willerson for 21 1/2 years under St. Luke and now CHI/Baylor St. Luke . He always had a good word for me when i seen him at the hospital. His present will truly be missed . He always told me about his War stories. Rest Easy Dr. Willerson
Sophia
Coworker
September 21, 2020
Dr. Willerson has been such a fixture in my life that I thought he would always be around. We know each other for 31 years, when he became the chair of my department at McGovern Medical School (UT Houston). His life’s goal has been to conquer heart disease in all its complexities, but he was probably happiest when caring for his many patients. He will be missed by them, as he will be missed in the Texas Medical Center and around the world. May he rest in peace.


Heinrich Taegtmeyer, MD, DPhil
Coworker
September 21, 2020
A great Texas Longhorn and Fellow Texas Cowboy. A life
well led.

May God Bless Jim and the Family.
Bill Melton
September 20, 2020
I first met Dr. Willerson on a Saturday morning 1973 when he appeared at the home of Dr. Winfred Sugg en route to a YMCA Indian Guides event they were attending with their daughters. Two years later he was the attending instructor on my first internal medicine rotation in school. His intensity and his enthusiasm for internal medicine was contagious and he alone was the reason I have spent 40 years in its practice. I saw him speak several times over the past years and each time he remembered me by name, the only UT Southwestern faculty to have ever known my name. He once recalled a patient we had seen together some 15 years before when I was a student.
I found him to be an excellent if intense teacher and there are still many useful pieces of information and insight which he pounded into my head. I think of him frequently and consider him to have been among the most influential people in my education.
Gary O’Donnell
Student
September 20, 2020
My heart is sad, I will miss my friend, Dr. James Willerson a brilliant Cardiologist, who I knew in his youth at MGH in Boston and then again in his older age at Baylor St. Luke's in Houston. The world has lost a great man, a dear and glorious physician, teacher, healer, scientist and comforter who sought to help people. Jim gave his life to prevent suffering throughout the world. Thank you for taking care of John and saving his life. Peace and love to his family, Jim touched so many lives who now mourn for him. Rest in Peace Jim, "Susie"
Susan and John Teague
Coworker
September 20, 2020
Words cannot explain what he meant to our family. He helped us through such bad times with our son’s heart problem and death. The world has lost a great man and how he will be missed. Oh how he will be missed. With love Hattie B. Parker and our family
Hattie Parker
Friend
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