James Wilson Harkess

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 12 July 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:103
  1. Donald A L Dick

    Born June 1925 in Edinburgh, James Wilson Harkess attended George Heriot School and then Edinburgh University, graduating in 1948.

    A lifelong scholar, he was most grateful for his education and to his teachers. In turn, he inspired his students and graduates with his enthusiasm, conscientiousness, attention to detail, and a desire to know how and why things worked in science and medicine.

    Completing house appointments, James was drafted for UK military service, serving mostly in Malaya and Singapore. He returned to Princess Margaret Rose Hospital to continue his interest in orthopaedics, and from there he sought further experience in the United States at the Albany Hospital, Albany, New York. As an outstanding resident, he was asked to stay on and complete its surgical programme.

    Ironically, when this was completed, he was again drafted for military service, to the US army, and spent most of his time at the military hospital at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In the year he took his American surgical boards examination, he achieved the highest marks for that year.

    In 1958 James joined the staff at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, where he rapidly rose to a full professorship and to become assistant chief of orthopaedics.

    As an excellent teacher, by lecture and demonstration, and boosted by his love of anatomy, he was popular with both medical student and residents in surgical training. He was voted teacher of the year in Georgia; he repeated this later in Louisville, Kentucky.

    He worked tirelessly for his surgical residents, always available to help and advise. He made many lifelong friends. His opinion was widely sought as a caring surgeon technically expert with round clinical acumen. Patients appreciated his empathy and down to earth approach.

    In 1967 he accepted the newly created chair of Korsair professor of orthopaedics at the University of Louisville Medical School, Kentucky. There he guided and led the department to national recognition until 1981, when he retired to private practice. However, he continued on as clinical professor until 2002.

    Interested in education, James served as a member of the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery, 1973-7. He was chairman of the written examination committee, 1975-7, and examiner of the part II boards in 1965 and 1966. His publications covered a wide spectrum of surgical endeavour. He belonged to numerous medical associations and in many was active, and held office at various levels.

    Harkess lectured at the medical schools of Beijing and Shanghai in 1980. In the United States he served as a visiting professor to a number of medical schools in Wisconsin, Ohio, Georgia, and New York. Overseas at the Union of Tehran, Iran, at the annual US meetings of AAOS in 1961, 1964, and 1965 he conducted refresher courses. In 1985 he served as co-chairman of the Sino North American Orthopaedic conference in Beijing.

    He never really retired. He was honoured by the state of Kentucky and served in several consultant capacities.

    He was a long time member of the Second Presbyterian Church in Louisville.

    Always interested in language and law, in later year he chose to act as a consultant to medical defence lawyers. Apparently, he was a skilled and forcible adversary in situations badly needing such expertise. On his death, the law society paid tribute to him.

    On 31 October 2006, while leaving an afternoon bridge game, he was struck by a reversing car. The trauma and multiple injuries proved rapidly fatal, despite prompt and expert care.

    Immensely proud of his family, he is survived by his dear wife of 52 years, Janice; two sons, John and James; and a daughter, Jane.


    • Former Korsair professor of orthopaedics Louisville Medical School, Kentucky (b 1925; q Edinburgh 1948), died after being hit by a car on 31 October 2006.

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