March 24, 2020

Pediatric Cardiology icon Thomas P. Graham Jr., MD, dies at 83

Renowned Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt cardiologist Thomas P. Graham Jr., MD, who founded and led the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at Vanderbilt for 33 years, died Wednesday, March 18. He was 83.


by Jessica Pasley

Renowned Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt cardiologist Thomas P. Graham Jr., MD, who founded and led the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at Vanderbilt for 33 years, died Wednesday, March 18. He was 83.

Thomas P. Graham Jr., MD

A Charlotte, North Carolina, native, Dr. Graham, professor of Pediatrics, emeritus, graduated from Duke University School of Medicine, followed by a pediatric residency at Boston Children’s Hospital and two years at the National Institutes of Health in the departments of cardiology and physiology. He completed his fellowship training in pediatric cardiology at Duke and joined its Division of Pediatric Cardiology before being recruited to Vanderbilt in 1971.

“What you will hear everyone say about Dr. Graham is he was truly a gentleman,” said Scott Baldwin, MD, professor of Pediatrics and Cell and Developmental Biology and successor to Dr. Graham as chief of Pediatric Cardiology. “He was revered throughout the pediatric cardiology community as one of the fathers of the field of adult congenital heart disease. He began a practice of his own in collaboration with the adult cardiovascular division that has evolved into what it is today — the second largest program in the Southeast.”

During his long and distinguished career, he served as interim chair of Vanderbilt’s Department of Pediatrics, as vice chair for Clinical Affairs in the department, and as chair of the Medical Center Medical Board.

Graham was named the Ann and Monroe Carell Family Professor of Pediatric Cardiology in 1985 and in 2008 the Thomas P. Graham Jr. Division of Cardiology was named to honor its first director.

Baldwin, only the second chief of the division, said Graham was known for his honesty, compassion and fairness.

“He set the example for what it means to be a great clinician, a great person and how to be a leader,” said Baldwin, Katrina Overall McDonald Professor of Pediatrics. “He created an incredible foundation here for collegial interaction, learning and stewardship.”

As a national and international leader in pediatric cardiology, he served on numerous boards and organizations and in 2006 became only the second pediatric cardiologist to be presented with the Gifted Teacher award from the American College of Cardiology, one of the highest honors bestowed by the professional society.

“Dr. Graham was literally a gentleman and scholar. While thousands of pediatric cardiologists around the world know of Tom’s scholarly work and reputation as one of the finest clinicians in pediatric cardiology, those of us who had the good fortune to work with Tom at Vanderbilt knew him as a kind, caring, calm and determined leader,” said James Johns, MD, professor of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital.

“Tom’s principles guide everything we do. He set an expectation that everyone would put patients first, provide the best possible care, be kind to each other, collaborate and work hard.”

In a 1996 profile, Dr. Graham said:

“I was really torn between adult and pediatric cardiology, but it became clear that I loved dealing with children during my third year of medical school when I took pediatrics,” he said.

“My only concern was whether there would be enough jobs in pediatric cardiology to support the growing number of people who were interested in this emerging specialty.”

The Pediatric Cardiology program continues to be one of the specialties that places Children’s Hospital among the nation’s best in pediatric care, which highlights Dr. Graham’s desire to train cardiologists for the future and build a program that he was immensely proud of. The Thomas P. Graham, Jr. Division of Pediatric Cardiology will have its 50th anniversary in 2021.

Dr. Graham is survived by his wife of 59 years, Carol Ann (Noggle); sister, Ann Graham Moseley, children Bethany Graham Sleckman, Thomas Brent Graham (Evelyn), Brooke Graham Doyle (William), eight beloved grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

The family is grateful for the friends and caregivers who have helped and added quality to these last years.

Memorials may be made to the Thomas P. Graham Jr. Fellowship in Pediatric Cardiology Fund at Children’s Hospital, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Duke University School of Medicine, Alive Hospice or a charity of your choice.