James T. Willerson, MD
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"