After dealing gallantly with an extended illness, Dr. William (Bill) Harlan James, 77, passed away Monday evening, August 30, 2010 surrounded by family members and friends. He had been hospitalized since June 20, 2010, for treatment of a subdural hematoma and complications resulting from chronic lymphatic leukemia (CLL) in Anchorage and at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. On Monday afternoon, he returned to the home he and his second wife, Jean Wadland James, built together. He maintained his wit throughout his illness and quoted Mark Twain, "Everybody wants to go to heaven, just not today." He wanted his obituary to start with "The old coot finally kicked the bucket ... " Dr. James was born in 1933 in Warren, Ohio, to Helen Scheidegger James and W.A. James. Dr. James graduated as valedictorian of Warren G. Harding High School in January 1951, attended Ohio Wesleyan Univ e r s i t y, and graduated with top honors from Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science in 1954. In 1958, he obtained his MD degree from Ohio State Medical School, graduated Phi Beta Kappa and first in his class. From 1958-1959, he did a Rotating Internship at Colorado General Hospital in Denver. During this time, he developed his long-term love of skiing and vowed to never live east of the Rockies again. With the exception of completing a pediatric residency at Akron Childrens Hospital in Akron, Ohio, from 1964-1966, he kept that vow.
After his internship, Dr. James had two options- being drafted into the military or joining the Public Health Service (PHS). He chose the PHS and came to Alaska in July 1959. The PHS stationed him at St. George Island in the Pribilof Islands in Alaska. There wasn't a harbor or airstrip on St. George Island, so when they arrived by ship, they had to board a baidar (skin boat) and be rowed to shore. He remained at St. George until he was transferred to Anchorage of that year. After six months, the PHS then transferred him to the Bering Sea Patrol with the Coast Guard from June to December of 1960. This was when the PHS provided doctors to the Coast Guard to make visits to clinics along the Aleutian Chain and up the coast of Alaska. In fact, he visited all the villages along the coast.
For almost 30 of his 44year medical career James served as a pediatrician family practice doctor to Interior Alaska Natives and visited all of the Interior villages. In December 1960, Dr. James was transferred by the PHS to Tanana where he remained until October 1962. In Tanana, Dr. James took up one of his hobbies, water-skiing. He and others from the Tanana Hospital would get rigged up and water-ski the Yukon River. During this time he married his first wife, Lois John, from Fort Yukon and raised a family of six children. After being in Tanana, the PHS wanted to transfer him to a place where he "would do a lot more administrative work." He hated administrative work so he resigned and came to Fairbanks and started working for the Tanana Valley Clinic (TVC) where he stayed from October 1962 until June 1963. He and his family moved to Council, Idaho, where he was in private practice for a year. After this experience, he decided to complete a pediatric residency. After residency, he returned to Fairbanks and worked again at the TVC until 1973. He then re-enlisted in the PHS, maintaining his Captain 06 rank, and worked for the Alaska Native Health Service (ANHS) clinic in Fairbanks through May 1976. He returned to the Tanana Hospital one more time from May 1976 to August 1978, getting to water ski once again. Afterwards, he returned to Fairbanks and worked at the clinic later named the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center (CAIHC). He retired from the CAIHC in 2003, and is well remembered by people throughout Interior Alaska for his calm and caring manner. Before retirement, he was asked "if you could magically cure one disease what would it be?" He responded, "Alcoholism," and now he would have also included drug addiction.
After retirement, Dr. James was able to indulge in his passion of reading something other than medical literature. Despite the CLL, he remained very active. He and a group of "guys" spent many wonderful times together backpacking in the Grand Canyon, the Rockies, throughout Southern Utah, British Columbia and Alaska. He also spent many days skiing at Moose Mountain in Fairbanks. He and Jean had many adventures skiing, kayaking, and canoeing. He also enjoyed gardening. Bill was a regular at the Fairbanks Athletic Club since 1988 and developed many friendships during this time.
His family was very important to him and he maintained a ritual of Saturday night family dinners for which he did all the shopping and cooking. Ever since his kids were little, he took them to Alyeska to ski for a week. This tradition evolved into his doing all the shopping and cooking for 20+ kids, grandkids, friends, nephews, nieces, himself and his wife Jean.
He touched the lives of many. Randy Hurd M.D., Bill's close friend and colleague, reflects the sentiment of many when he says: "… more than any other person in my adult life, you, undoubtedly without intending to, have been my sentinel person, the person who has shown me the way. You've been the trinity of surrogate dad, partner, and friend to me, uniquely."
An article about Dr. James written by Mary Beth Smetzer can be found at newsminer.com/
bookmark/9357247, which also includes a guest book and picture gallery. Also, a Community Health Aide Program taped, three-part interview with Dr. James can be accessed via a Google seach -Jukebox UAF Bill James; or at http://jukebox.uaf.edu/
CHA/htm/bjames.htm Many thanks go to his long-term colleague and physician, Dr. J. Michael Carroll, and staff at Fairbanks Cancer Care Physicians for their friendship and care. At every visit, Dr. James always had a joke for whoever was willing to listen.
He is survived by his wife of 23 years Jean Wadland James; his six children: Bob, Geraldine, John, Adam, Aaron, Eli, their spouses, partners and nine grandchildren; his stepson: Nolan Wadland; his brother Judge Richard James and sisterin- law June; sisters Janet McGeough and Carol Mundo of Warren, Ohio and numerous nephews and nieces and friends.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial donations be made in his name to the Walter J. and Ermalee Hickel House, Providence Alaska Foundation, POB 196604 Anchorage, AK 99519, or to the Cancer Treatment Center, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital Foundation, POB 71396, Fairbanks 99707. Condolences may be sent to POB 84017, Fairbanks, AK 99708-4017 A memorial service will be held Sunday, September 12, 2010, at 4 p.m. in the Chief David Salmon Tribal Hall, 111 Clay St, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Published by Daily News-Miner on Sep. 5, 2010.