Dr. James Willie with Mr. Mekbib Gemeda of EVMS

James O. Willie, MD, the first board-certified black OB/GYN physician in the region and an original member of the EVMS faculty, has died. He was 95.

Dr. Willie helped integrate local hospitals, was a respected civic leader and served as a mentor to generations of physicians. 

“By all accounts, he was a personable, dedicated and engaging physician who brought a pioneering spirit to EVMS and to the community,” says Richard Homan, MD, President and Provost and Dean of the School of Medicine. 

Derwin Gray, MD, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a member of the EVMS Board of Visitors, trained under Dr. Willie and said he represented what was the best of American medicine. 

“He was my professor and attending physician during my clinical rotation as a third-year resident at Norfolk Community Hospital,” Dr. Gray recalls. “He was politically astute and understood the need for black, minority and poor folk to have physicians who cared for and cared about their patients. One of the proudest moments of my life is when Dr. Willie asked me to care for one of his family members.” 

Sharon Sheffield, MD (MD ’92, Obstetrics and Gynecology Residency ’97) credits Dr. Willie with helping her choose OB/GYN. 

“During my third year at EVMS, I did my OB/GYN clerkship at Norfolk Community Hospital, where Dr. Willie was my attending,” Dr. Sheffield says. “It was the best rotation I had that year, and my experience with him solidified my decision to become an obstetrician/gynecologist. 

“He was an excellent teacher,” she said. “I saw patients in the clinic daily, followed patients in the hospital, and I met with him on a weekly basis to discuss interesting cases and career choices. He also taught the residents from Howard University who came to Norfolk and worked with him in the hospital and clinic. Many of those residents returned after graduating and became productive in the community. After completing my residency at EVMS, it was Dr. Willie's approval that made me feel confident about my decision to practice in the Suffolk and Franklin areas.” 

L.D. Britt, MD, MPH, knew Dr. Willie as a colleague and friend. 

“He was the definition of a professional,” said Dr. Britt, the Edward J. Brickhouse Chair in Surgery, the Henry Ford Professor of Surgery and Professor and Chair of Surgery. “I don’t think there’s an OB member in the African American community that Dr. Willie didn’t have some impact on.” 

Mekbib Gemeda, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, met Dr. Willie shortly after Mr. Gemeda came to EVMS. 

“He continued until his last days,” Mr. Gemeda says, “to share his wisdom and provide historical context on the sustained effort to enhance diversity and inclusion in health professions and advance health equity as member of our EVMS mentoring family. He would light up with pride whenever I visited him at his home, showing me the photos displayed in his living room of the trainees from Howard University who trained under him at the Norfolk Community Hospital. We will miss him.” 

Read his obituary.