March 8, 2002

Williams, well-known surgeon, dies at 71

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Williams, well-known surgeon, dies at 71

Dr. Lester F. Williams Jr., professor of Surgery at Vanderbilt and Chief of Surgery at St. Thomas Hospital, died Monday after a prolonged illness. He was 71.

Williams was committed to research and to the education of physicians in training in the research role as well as the clinical setting. He was active in numerous medical societies, served as editor of several books and authored dozens of book chapters and journal articles.

A native of Brockton, Mass., Williams received his undergraduate degree from Brown University in 1952 and his medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine in 1956, then completed an internship, residency and flight surgeon training in the U.S. Air Force. Following the completion of his military service, he served first as residency program director from 1969 to 1975 at Boston University School of Medicine and then chairman of surgery there from 1977 to 1984. He came to Nashville in 1985 where he served as chief of Surgery from 1985 to 1989 at the Nashville Veterans Administration Medical Center and Residency Program Coordinator from 1987 to 1995 at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Williams was awarded the Faculty Teaching Award by Vanderbilt surgical residents in 1993, 1994 and 2000.

Dr. James A. O’Neill Jr., former director of the division of Surgical Sciences, knew Williams long before they both ended up at Vanderbilt.

“He was a man loved by a lot of people, but he was particularly a friend of the residents,” O’Neill said. “He had a talent for teaching and a commitment to surgical residents. You don’t know too many people in life who are idealistic and live it and really mean it. He did.”

“He knew surgery back and forth and taught our residents those skills as well as how to reason and develop judgment, and that’s very important in surgery—developing good judgment,” he said.

Dr. John Tarpley, professor of Surgery and Program Director for General Surgery at VUMC, is another Vanderbilt faculty member who worked closely with Williams.

“Lester Williams was a big man with a big heart, a generous heart,” Tarpley said. “Lester was an advocate for students and residents. He would ask, point, intimidate and teach. He helped a generation of his surgical trainees ace the oral surgical board exams.”

Williams is survived by his wife, Sara Jayne. At his request, Williams’ body has been donated to VUSM. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Professorship Chair of Lester and Sara Jayne Williams for Academic Surgery, c/o Robert Feldman, D-3300 Medical Center North, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn. 37232-2104.