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James M. Whittico Jr., M.D.: 1916-2018

by Nancy Solomon on 08/30/2018

James Whittico Jr., M.D., a pioneering physician who had been a clinical professor at SLU, died on Aug. 21. He was 101.

Denise Hooks-Anderson, M.D., a SLUCare family medicine physician and an associate professor in SLU’s department of family and community medicine, described Dr. Whittico as “one of my favorite people ever” and noted she had never seen him dressed in anything other than a three-piece suit.

James M. Whittico Jr., M.D.

“He was a gentleman doctor who just went out of his way to treat his patients with the utmost respect. That’s all he really ever wanted to do. I’ve never seen a person who had that much compassion for his patients,” Hooks-Anderson said.

Dr. Whittico saw patients in his private practice for 65 years, until he retired at age 99. In addition his position at SLU, Dr. Whittico was a clinical instructor of surgery at Washington University School of Medicine and served six St. Louis hospitals as chief of staff or chief of surgery.

Dr. Whittico was the son of an educator and of a physician who he joined on horse-and-buggy house calls in West Virginia. A fierce advocate for civil rights, Dr. Whittico began practicing medicine during the Jim Crow-era that made segregation part of American life.

He fought to eliminate hospital medical staff segregation and mounted a national recruitment program to increase minority student enrollment in medical schools.

Dr. Whittico served as surgeon on the medical staff of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and directed the cancer clinic at Homer G. Phillips Hospital. He also served as president of the Mound City Medical Forum, the Missouri Pan-Medical Society and the National Medical Association. Under Dr. Whittico’s leadership, the National Medical Association was awarded a multi-million dollar NIH grant to recruit and train African-American doctors.

Donita Bing, administrator for SLU’s chair of surgery, remembered the kindness Dr. Whittico showed whenever he came in for SLU’s Grand Rounds.

“He always had a smile, he was gentle and very much a gentleman. He cared and he would come up with a flower or a sack or oranges to thank me for including him in Grand Rounds. He wanted to be kept in the loop so he could continue to learn,” she said.

Dr. Whittico lobbied legislators to enact laws to advance care for his patients and hosted a sitting U.S. president, Lyndon Johnson, as a speaker for the national organization over which he presided.

His achievements were celebrated in a booklet about St. Louis’s African-American pioneering doctors that memorialized the relocation of SLU’s Health Resource Center, which cares for underserved patients, in 2013.

A scholarship bearing his name was established at Mound City Medical Forum, which celebrated his birthday with a surprise party at its annual scholarship banquet in 2015.

“We want students to know this is your example and it’s a high standard,” said Hooks-Anderson, who was president of the organization at the time. “Every day you should be the best doctor for your patients, for the poor, for the disenfranchised. That’s who Dr. Whittico was. He touched so many lives.”

Dr. Whittico was the first African-American physician to serve on the St. Louis Board of Health and Hospitals as well as Missouri’s first African American to become a military hospital chief surgeon in active combat during World War II. He served as commanding officer and chief surgeon of the 93rd Infantry Division hospital and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He received several military awards, including the Bronze Star and the Meritorious Combat Service Ribbon.

He received his medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and completed a surgical residency at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, followed by a surgical fellowship at Washington University.

Dr. Whittico is survived by his children Jarrhet Whittico and Joi Whittico. His wife Gloria Thompson Whittico predeceased him.

Visitation will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6 in Austin A. Layne Renaissance Chapel, 7302 W. Florissant Ave. The celebration of Dr. Whittico’s life will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 7 at Central Baptist Church, 2842 Washington Blvd., with interment following at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.