meador 1Clifton K. Meador, MD, is Professor of Medicine Emeritus at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He was Professor of Medicine and Dean at the Medical College of Alabama, later named the School of Medicine at UAB; then Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt; Chief Medical Officer, Saint Thomas Hospital; and Executive Director, Meharry/Vanderbilt Alliance. He received his MD degree from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1955. Postgraduate training included internship and internal medicine residency at Presbyterian Hospital, in New York City; and internal medicine residency and NIH fellowship in endocrinology at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of 14 books.

DrJamesPittman PatchMy first memory of Jim Pittman is a phone call from him in 1962. I had just joined a private practice group in Selma, headed by Dr. Drayton Doherty, the physician who delivered me into the world by Caesarian section in 1931.

After introducing himself, Jim said, “Dr. Tinsley Harrison suggested I invite you to a scientific meeting we are having at Ann Jordan farm. He tells me he remembers you from his internship interview of you in ’54. You may recall that he advised you to go to East for training and then come back to see him when you finished your training. He says it’s time you came to see him.”

At the meeting at the farm, in addition to seeing Harrison, I met Dick Hill, then head of the Endocrine Division; Wally Frommeyer, who had followed Harrison as chairman of medicine; and, of course, Jim Pittman, who would become head of Endocrinology when Dick Hill became Dean. After my visits with the group and with Harrison, I knew I had found my new professional home.

VolkerDr. Joseph Volker, left, with Dr. S. Richardson HillIn subsequent visits to Birmingham, I also met Joseph Volker, Scotty McCallum and Joe Reeves. I had now met all of the leaders of the team that would propel the medical center into national prominence in medicine and dentistry. I was lucky to arrive at this exciting early phase of what I call the Camelot years of the University’s growth and development. Jim Pittman played a vital role when he assumed the deanship, especially in his commitment to recruiting outstanding scientists to the faculty.

I have two other vivid memories of Jim Pittman.

First, when I heard that Jim’s first scientific observation was his clocking the air speed of a loon from his bi-winged, open cockpit airplane, I knew I was in the presence of an unusual person.

My second lasting memory comes from Jim’s discussions with me about scientific specialization and focus. When he was head of the Endocrine Division, he acted much like a coach.

“Clifton,” he said, “what endocrine gland are you going to pick for your specialty?”

Taken aback at first, thinking that endocrinology was specialized enough, I answered, “Jim, you know I like all the glands. I’d hate to settle on just one.”

“I know,” he said, “but you need to pick one to focus on.”

I thought a while, reflecting on all the endocrine glands. I really did like the whole lot, but I finally said, “Jim, I guess if I had to pick one, I’d say the adrenal gland might be my gland.”

“The adrenal is not one gland,” he said. “It’s two – the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla. Two completely different organs. They are as different as the thyroid is from the testicle.”

Jim was completely serious.

Then he said, “If you don’t pick one gland, then you’ll just end up a GP endocrinologist.” That is the moment when I knew I would be happy to remain a general practice endocrinologist. I would never be an investigator.

But Jim understood science at a deep level and knew that focus and concentration are necessary for scientific observation and discovery. That understanding of science and his recruitment efforts led the way for UAB to become a truly scientific institution of national stature.

About Dr. Pittman

 A93 04 0599 Pittman

Born: April 12, 1927, Orlando, Fla.

B.S., Davidson College: 1948

M.D., Harvard Medical School: 1952

Internship, Massachusetts General Hospital: 1952-54

Clinical Associate, National Institutes of Health: 1954-56

Married Constance Shen, MD: February 19, 1955

Internal Medicine Resident, UAB, 1956; Chief Resident, 1957-58

Joined UAB faculty: 1959

Director, UAB Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism: 1962-71

Dean of Medicine: 1973-92

Died January 12, 2014, Birmingham, Ala.