Longtime professor of Surgery James T. Adams, M.D., died Thursday morning, May 9, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 83.
Colleagues and residents alike celebrate his 51-year tenure at URMC, calling Adams “legendary,” a true family man, and a phenomenal clinician and teacher. Up until recent months, he remained an active member of the Department, rarely missing teaching rounds and conducting quality assurance Surgery’s Colorectal and Pediatric divisions.
“Adams was considered one of the backbones of URMC’s Surgery Department,” according to Jeffrey H. Peters, M.D., Seymour I. Schwartz Professor and Chair. “Teaching since 1962, he was iconic, leaving an imprint on so many surgeons’ careers. It wasn’t uncommon to hear one of them cite what were playfully dubbed ‘Adamsisms’—a short-hard summing up some trademark aspect of Jim’s extraordinary approach to his life and his work. His influence was simply profound. This is a tremendous loss for so many.”
Predominantly a gastrointestinal surgeon, Adams also made significant advances in the realm of venous surgery, even temporarily taking the helm of vascular surgery at URMC during a transitional time for the division. In fact, one of Adams’ most important contributions to the field was partnering on the development of the Adams-DeWeese clip. Fashioned in 1966, the plastic, clamp-like device secured to the inferior vena cava (a large vein that ferries de-oxygenated blood back to the heart), preventing life-threatening clots while at the same time not unnecessarily impeding blood flow. For a period, it was the most turned-to device for patients with thromboembolic disease.
Adams also lent important insights that evolved principles of management for pancreatitis, an incredibly painful inflammation of the pancreas.
All told, Adams authored more than 90 scientific articles.
Despite these notable achievements, fellow Department stalwart Seymour Schwartz, M.D., Distinguished Alumni Professor of Surgery, says Adams’ biggest credit was his gift for teaching.
“He was probably the best mentor of residents the Department had ever seen,” said Schwartz, himself a URMC veteran since completing his UR School of Medicine and Dentistry residency in1957. “He was held in such high regard, he was practically a father figure to many of them. On top of that, he was a superb surgeon with impeccable clinical skill.”
George Alfieris, M.D., chief of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery at URMC, trained under Adams as a general surgery intern and later resident between 1987 and 1992. He called Adams a “giant” whose shoulders so many were lucky to stand on.
“What stands out to me most is how uncompromisingly compassionate Jim was with regard to his patients,” Alfieris said. “His clinical care and manner were absolutely beyond reproach, such a shining example to those he taught. He was fiercely dedicated to his patients, to his family, to surgical education in the department, and to the University in general.”
Adams’ professional passion proved infectious at home, too, inspiring his son Mark J. Adams, M.D., M.B.A., FACR,professor and associate chair of Imaging Sciences at URMC, to pursue a career in medicine (he’s been with URMC since 1988). Mark’s daughter, Jamie L. Adams, M.D., is currently completing a residency in neurology at the University of Pennsylvania.
“He lived a rich, full life,” Mark said. “He loved his work here at URMC, deeply investing in those he mentored. Naturally, we had to share him with a lot of people— but he had a lot of heart, a lot to give, and more than enough love to spread around.”
A native to Rochester, Adams earned his bachelor’s degree in arts and Sciences from Washington University before entering medical school at Washington University Medical Center in 1955. He completed his residency at the Washington University-based Barnes Hospital (now the merged Barnes-Jewish Hospital), and spent two years serving as a medical corps captain and chief of General Surgery at The U.S. Army Hospital at Fort Leonard Wood— a mandatory requirement for all physician deferments from the Korean War. After his military post, Adams relocated back to Rochester, coming aboard the University of Rochester as a senior surgical instructor in 1962.
“Though born in Rochester, Adams’ appointment marked the Department’s first outside recruit, the first time hiring a faculty member who’d trained beyond URMC’s own School of Medicine and Dentistry,” Peters noted. “It was a culture shift, and an important one.”
Ardent and generous supporters of the arts, Adams and his wife, Jacqueline (Jacquie), have left their signature on another arm of the University: Its Memorial Art Gallery. The two have been long-time members of the Director’s Circle, where they donated pieces and even established an endowment fund to benefit the Gallery’s educational programs. Since 1984, a room bearing their names has housed 19th century European paintings and sculptures, and in 2006, the couple presented a six-figure gift to create an unrestricted charitable annuity. More recent contributions will advance the refurbishment of a nearby medieval gallery.
“We’re deeply saddened by the news of Jim’s passing,” said Grant Holcomb, the gallery’s Mary W. and Donald R. Clark Director. “Professionally, personally and philanthropically, he and his wife have enriched this community in so many meaningful ways.”
Belonging to virtually every major notable surgery society, Adams was a member of the American Surgical Association, the American College of Surgeons, the Society of University Surgeons, the Central Surgical Association, the Society for Vascular Surgery, the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract, and American Association for the Surgery of Trauma.
He is survived by his wife, children Pamela and William Mostyn, Mark and Andrea Adams, Sari and William Middlebrook, and three grandchildren.
Calling hours are planned for 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, and 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, May 16, at Anthony Funeral Chapel at 2305 Monroe Ave. Internment is private. A community memorial service is planned for 3 p.m. Saturday, June 15, at the Interfaith Chapel (River Campus), with a reception to follow.
At the family’s request, in lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Memorial Art Gallery.