George Melville Williams
Celebrating the Life of
November 16, 1930 - August 26, 2020
The Virtual Memorial Service for
Dr. George Melville "Mell" Williams
from Friday, October 16, 2020
Pioneering transplant surgeon and first president of UNOS, father of four and grandfather “Yampa” to many, G. Melville Williams died August 26, 2020 from complications of Covid-19. Mell was born in 1930 in Soochow China, the son of Melville Owen Williams and Annie Lee Williams. They lived along with his younger sister Ann (Craig) on the campus of Soochow University, where his father was a professor of sociology and religion. The family left China as WWII broke out when Mell was 10 and eventually settled in Leonia, New Jersey, where Mell worked summers for the City of Hackensack and went on to attend Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio.
Mell met fellow student Elizabeth Lee Logan at Oberlin, they fell in love and married in 1955 and went on to have four children, Curtiss Williams (Lawrie), Steve Williams (Annette), Lucy Hand (Ben) and Liddy Garcia Bunuel (Martin). Mell attended Harvard Medical School and went to Mass General Hospital for his Internship and Residency from 1957-1963. After brief stints in Iran as an Army Captain and physician and Australia where he researched immunology at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia, he joined the faculty of the Medical College of Virginia in 1965. There he collaborated with a gifted team of transplant surgeons, led by David Hume pioneering early discoveries in transplantation. Mell accepted a position with Johns Hopkins Hospital and University School of Medicine in 1969 as Professor of Surgery and Chief of the Division of Transplantation and Vascular Surgery until 1995, when he retired from transplantation to lead vascular surgery until 2000. He retired from active surgery in 2010 after thirty-seven years.
Mell has been President of the Halsted Society, United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS), the American Society of Transplant Surgeons and was President and one of the founding members of The Southern Association of Vascular Surgery (SAVS). While his research interests included endothelial biology in transplanted organs and aortas; reperfusion injury, antibodies and rejection, his deepest commitments were to the care and wellbeing of his patients. This was core to who he was. He often visited patients Sunday night to prepare them for early Monday morning surgery and his sensitivity was evident in the difficult conversations around organ donation. He was a truly integrated surgeon who considered among his most important accomplishments to be the mentorship of aspiring, young surgeons.
Mell married Linda Parsons in April of 1996 and added two stepdaughters, Kristin Parsons and Amy (Bob) Mann. Together Mell and Linda ushered in a new chapter in his life as Yampa, or Grandfather. Mell and Linda created Camp Yampa Yamma hosting all 12 of their grandchildren for a week every summer for 10 years. Swimming, boating, adventures to Dobbins Island, all-inclusive theater performances, room inspections, and awards night created a unique experience which was not only a gift for grandchildren, but also the break provided their children with precious restorative time. (Madison Williams, Lexi Williams- Curtiss/Lawrie Williams), (Rowan Williams – Steve/Annette Williams), (Grace Hand, Logan Hand -Lucy/Ben Hand) (Justin Garcia-Bunuel, Jake Garcia Bunuel Liddy/Martin Garcia Bunuel) (Tyler Parsons, Sydney Parsons, Riley Parsons – Kristin Parsons), (Hannah Brown, Abby Brown -Amy/Bob Mann).
Mell had a special interest in his birthplace China and made important relationships with the medical community as they collaborated to advance medicine in both countries. He and Linda retired to Stuart, Florida where, as Spirit would have it, Mell himself became the recipient of a kidney transplant, performed by a colleague and former mentee and donated by his beloved wife Linda. Mell stayed in touch with research at Johns Hopkins doing meaningful work around stem cell and liver and kidney regeneration. In June of 2020, Mell was awarded the prestigious Pioneer Award from the American Academy of Transplant Surgeons.
Mell was a gifted storyteller, interesting and interested human being, an engaged friend and community member and this was no different with his new home in Stuart, Florida. Participating in church, singing in the choir, golf, weekly breakfasts with his nine fellow Romeos, were part of the close community he leaves behind.
from Johns Hopkins University
George Melville Williams (1930-2020)
George Melville “Mell” Williams, who established and modernized Transplant Surgery and Vascular Surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital over his 41 year tenure as a surgeon, died August 26th of complications of COVID-19 infection in Stuart, Florida. He was 89.
Dr. Williams was born in Soochow, China, and lived on the campus of Soochow University, where his father was a professor of sociology and religion. Mel, with his younger sister and parents, lived abroad until age 10. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1953 and his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, AOA, in 1957. After completing a surgical internship and two years of a surgical residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, Williams served as a surgeon in the U.S. Army, stationed in Tehran, Iran, from 1960 to 1962. He then returned to Massachusetts General to complete his residency in Surgery. At the Massachusetts General Hospital, he became interested in Vascular Surgery under the guidance of Robert Linton, MD but he was most intrigued by the scientific frontier of the new field of Organ Transplantation.
To prepare for a career in transplantation, Dr. Williams spent a year at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia in 1963. There he studied with Gus Nossal and the 1960 joint Nobel Prize Winners Sir Macfarlane Burnet and Sir Peter Medawar both pioneers in the field of immune tolerance. He then joined the team at the center of the transplantation revolution at the Medical College of Virginia (now Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center) under Dr. David Hume. He rose through the academic ranks to professor and director of surgical research. During this time, Dr. Williams made seminal contributions to the field, first to describe and then study antibody-mediated rejection and chronic rejection. This ground-breaking research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Williams’ insight into the shortage of organs for transplant motivated him to form the United Organ Sharing Network (UNOS) in 1977. He modeled the national strategy on a system of procurement he had helped to create for the southeastern United States, creating a matching system that maximized the opportunity for patients nationwide. He served as the first President of UNOS in 1977. For his lifetime contributions to the field of Transplantation, he received the American Society of Transplant Surgeons Pioneer Award in June, 2020.
George Zuidema, Chair of Surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, recruited Dr. Williams to Johns Hopkins in 1969 to lead a combined Division of Transplant and Vascular Surgery. Dr. Williams served as director of the Transplant-Vascular Division at Johns Hopkins until 1995, when separate Transplant and Vascular Divisions were established and he retired from transplantation to lead the new Division of Vascular Surgery until 2002. In the first years he led the development of a kidney transplant program at Hopkins, and subsequently the establishment of a liver transplant and pancreas transplant program. He led the team that performed the first liver transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital. His contributions to vascular surgery were equally momentous. Dr. Williams was revered as a master surgeon, inventing novel approaches to aortic aneurysm repair, such as the retroperitoneal approach for aortic exposure and aortic aneurysm repair which he refined and popularized; and organ preservation strategies for the most complex vascular reconstructions. His techniques and treatment protocols remain in use to this day for the betterment of patients worldwide. Dr. Williams was honored as the inaugural recipient of the Bertram M. Bernheim Professor of Vascular Surgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He retired from active surgery in 2010 after forty-one years at Hopkins.
After retirement, Dr. Williams continued to contribute to laboratory investigation in transplantation with Professor Zhaoli Sun at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and was faculty director for the Surgical Physician Assistant (PA) Program. Known affectionately as “Mell” to his colleagues and friends, his memory for surgery, recollections of the history of surgical heritage and ability to troubleshoot clinical conundrums were legendary. Indeed, Mell would benefit personally from his research in transplantation, receiving a kidney donated from his wife Linda. While in “retirement” in Florida, Mell obtained a medical license from the Florida Board of Medicine so that he could serve as a volunteer primary care physician at a charity clinic, and he devoted time to serve the medical needs of the indigent.
Dr. Williams’s contributions to American Surgery as a clinician and surgical technician of unparalleled excellence, scientist, and educator are remarkable, and his unique qualities of leadership across multiple surgical specialties is reflected in his having served as President of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, the Halsted Society, and as a founding member and President of the Southern Association for Vascular Surgery. In 2008, he was awarded the Rudolf Matas Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Association for Vascular Surgery. Dr. Williams trained generations of surgeons at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in the art and science of transplant and vascular surgery. His humble demeanor, prodigious skill and affable manner are cherished by all who knew him and live on as his legacy.
Dr. Williams is survived by Linda, his wife of nearly 25 years; and by his 4 children, Curtis, Steve, Lucy, Elizabeth; 2 stepchildren, Kristin and Amy; and 12 grandchildren. Dr. Williams is also survived by Lee, his first wife and mother of their children.
In lieu of flowers
Contributions can be made in memory of Dr. Williams to support
the transplantation research of Dr. Zhaoli Sun, MD.
Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine
attn. Samantha Oliphant
550 North Broadway
Baltimore, MD 21205.
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