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VUMC mourns loss of pioneering pediatric surgeon, philanthropist Holcomb

Jul. 1, 2019, 1:02 PM


by Wayne Wood

George Holcomb Jr., MD

George Holcomb Jr., MD, clinical professor of Surgery, emeritus, champion of the creation of a children’s hospital at Vanderbilt and former executive director of Medical Alumni Affairs, died June 28. He was 97.

Dr. Holcomb received his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt in 1943 and followed that with a Vanderbilt medical degree in 1946. He did a general surgery residency at Vanderbilt, during which he became interested in pediatric surgery, and did his pediatric surgery residency at Harvard University Medical School.

Beginning in 1952, Dr. Holcomb served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, stationed in Japan as a thoracic surgeon. After the war, in 1954, he and his late wife, Alice Ingram Holcomb, and young son returned to the United States, and shortly after, their daughter was born. The family returned to Nashville, where Dr. Holcomb opened his private practice in pediatric surgery and joined the Vanderbilt clinical faculty. He became a full-time faculty member in 1972.

Dr. Holcomb retired from practice in 1989, but in 1993, the late Roscoe R. “Ike” Robinson, MD, then vice chancellor for Health Affairs, asked him to serve as the executive director of Medical Alumni Affairs. Dr. Holcomb accepted and remained in the position until 2003.

“George was the pioneer pediatric surgeon in Tennessee and a devoted faculty member for more than 40 years,” said James O’Neill, MD, professor of Surgery, emeritus, and former head of the Section of Surgical Sciences. “Most importantly, he was the originator of the movement to develop the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, an effort that took over 20 years. Dr. Holcomb was also a major donor to Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.”

In 2006, Dr. Holcomb announced the George W. Holcomb Jr., M.D. Chair in Pediatric Surgery. At the time, he said, “Although the surgical care is excellent at Children’s Hospital now, I’m hopeful that this gift will help it continue to advance in national prominence as we recruit world-class pediatric surgeons to care for the children of Middle Tennessee and beyond.”

Dr. Holcomb was nationally recognized for his leadership in pediatric surgery. He was prominent in Tennessee medical organizations, was an officer in the American Pediatric Surgical Association, the Surgical Section of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other professional organizations.

“Many of us who are practicing surgery today are indebted to the wisdom, surgical technique and experience that Dr. Holcomb provided,” said John W. Brock III, MD, Surgeon-in-Chief for Children’s Hospital, Monroe Carell Jr. Professor and Senior Vice President of Pediatric Surgical Services. “It was his gentle, caring nature and his outstanding surgical techniques that were impressed upon many of us young surgeons.”

Dr. Holcomb is survived by his daughter, Virginia Bowen Holcomb, and son, George (Whit) Holcomb III, MD, who also served on the Vanderbilt Pediatric Surgery faculty.

A memorial service will be held at the West End United Methodist Church on Monday, July 8, at 3 p.m., with visitation at the church following the service.

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