May 30, 2019

Vanderbilt mourns loss of VMAA president and diversity pioneer, W. Bedford Waters, MD

W. Bedford Waters, MD, current president of the Vanderbilt Medical Alumni Association and the second African American to graduate from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM), died May 25. He was 71.


W. Bedford Waters, MD’74, BA’70

W. Bedford Waters, MD, president of the Vanderbilt Medical Alumni Association and the second African American to graduate from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM), died May 25. He was 71.

Dr. Waters graduated from VUSM in 1974 and earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Vanderbilt University in 1970. He completed his internship and one-year residency in general surgery at the University of California, San Diego. He became the chief resident in urology at The Harvard Program in Urology (Longwood Area) and served on the faculties of the University of Illinois and then the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University Chicago, where he remained for 20 years. He joined the staff at The University of Tennessee Medical Center in 2001, where he was named the first chair of the new Department of Urology in 2017.

Dr. Waters served on the Vanderbilt Alumni Association Board from 1986 to 1989. He was devoted in his efforts to garner alumni support for scholarships as a member of the Vanderbilt Medical Alumni Association (VMAA) board and leader of the Knoxville Vanderbilt chapter. He served as a VMAA regional representative from 1994 to1998 and was in continuous service to VMAA since 2006, serving his term as president at the time of his death. He established the Irene Georgia Bedford Waters Scholarship at VUSM to honor his mother.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of Dr. Waters’ untimely passing. He was one of medicine’s true pioneers, leading the way for others. Throughout his career Dr. Waters maintained incredibly close ties to Vanderbilt and will be remembered warmly by fellow University and School of Medicine alums, along with many other colleagues at our Medical Center, for his friendship and generosity,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer for Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Dean of VUSM. “On behalf of the Vanderbilt community I want to express my sympathy to Dr. Waters’ family for their loss.”

In December 2018, VUSM honored Dr. Waters as one of six pioneers for his historic contributions to education, science and medicine during a formal portrait unveiling at Langford Auditorium. In May he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Urological Association for advancing urologic oncology and inspiring diversity in the field of urology.

“Dr. Waters was a giant when it came to breaking color barriers. As a Vanderbilt undergraduate, he was just one of a very small group of African American students. He then became the first African American Vanderbilt undergraduate to matriculate into VUSM, following closely on the heels of the legendary Levi Watkins Jr., MD. Dr. Waters chose a career in academic urology, and from his urology training at Harvard, he was launched to become a transformative leader in the field of residency training and education,” said André Churchwell, MD, VUMC Chief Diversity Officer. “Over the years, he has been an ardent supporter of the Office for Diversity Affairs at VUSM and served as a friend and mentor for me as well.

“He was a warm and intelligent person and often mentioned that many times in his career he was the only person of color on national committees or major urological association boards. He will be sorely missed.”

From 1995 to 1999, Dr. Waters participated as a member of the examination committee of the American Board of Urology, Inc. (ABU). He was a trustee emeritus of ABU, serving as its president from 2008 to 2009, secretary-treasurer, chairman of the executive committee, chairman of the finance committee, and chairman of the recertification committee during his tenure from 2003 to 2012.

He served as the president of many regional and national organizations, including the Chicago Urological Society (1995), the Illinois State Urological Society (2000) and the urology section of the National Medical Association (1996-1998), while also serving on the executive committees of the Society of Urologic Oncology and the Society of University Urologists.

Dr. Waters was elected as an Active Member of the American Association of Genitourinary Surgeons in 2008 and was elected as a Fellow at the April 2013 meeting. He was featured in the U.S. News and World Report list of top USA physicians as one of four top physicians in the state of Tennessee, and in 2012, he was recognized by Worldwide Who’s Who for his dedication, leadership and excellence in medical education.

Dr. Waters was elected as a physician member to the University Health Systems, Inc. Board of Directors in July 2015. He received the Excellence in Teaching Award in June 2016 from the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine.

He was an expert in the treatment of urologic cancers, focusing on renal cancer, testis cancer, bladder cancer and urinary diversion, and served as a leader of many regional and national organizations. He trained 62 residents in his academic career, authored more than 75 peer-reviewed manuscripts and 18 book chapters, and gave over 170 presentations at local, national and international meetings.

“Dr. Waters was a wonderful mentor for many, a superb physician, a skillful educator, and a strong leader,” said Ann Price, MD, Associate Dean for Alumni Affairs. “His was truly a lifetime of achievement, but it is his warm friendship, extended generously across generations and specialties, that will be profoundly missed.”

Dr. Waters is survived by first cousins, Cecelia J. Waters of Knoxville, Tennessee, and Jamesetta Waters Lewis of Dayton, Ohio; and second-generation cousins, Amy Matthews Williams, Sara Elizabeth Waters, Andrea Waters Cowan, Stacey Lewis Carter, and Charles Lewis, Jr.

There will be a Celebration of Life on June 22,  from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Knoxville Museum of Art, 1050 World’s Fair Park Dr., Knoxville, Tennessee.