Dr. James D. Hardy

Main Content

James D. Hardy Obituary

Dr. James D. Hardy died Feb. 19, 2003 at the age of 84. He was chairman of the Department of Surgery from 1955 until his retirement in 1987.

His family has lost a loving grandfather and father.

The world has lost a man whose contributions to modern medicine will never be forgotten.

The Medical Center has lost a founding father, a guiding presence and a perennial source of pride.

As a pioneering surgeon and scientist, he took transplant surgery from the theoretical to the practical. The world's first human lung transplant in 1963, led by Hardy at UMC, and the world's first heart transplant in 1964, demonstrated that transplanted lungs would breathe and transplanted hearts would beat in their new recipients.

They were staggering accomplishments, and the magnitude of what he did took years to sink in, even to Hardy's peers. He was roundly criticized in both the lay media and by some of his surgical colleagues for rushing into human transplantation.

But Hardy never did anything without a plan and a back-up, and the two historic operations were no exceptions.

Hardy had not intended to use a chimpanzee heart in the 1964 operation, but knew he would if a suitable donor couldn't be found when there was a potential recipient who met the strict guidelines Hardy had formulated.

The use of the chimp heart fueled criticism even more. "We had not transplanted merely a human heart, we had transplanted a subhuman heart," Hardy wrote in his memoir, The World of Surgery 1945-1985: Memoirs of One Participant.

"Dr. Hardy was the pioneer, the original spark who said, 'Let's do it,' "said Dr. Wallace Conerly, UMC vice chancellor.

Criticism among his surgical colleagues cooled when Hardy's paper on the subject of the heart transplant appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association that described the strict ethical guidelines his team had followed in evaluating both donor and recipient. In fact, Hardy's esteem as a scientist and surgical pioneer soared. He received every honor a surgeon can aspire to, headed every major surgical association in the world, and was in demand by universities all over the world.

An editorial in the Clarion-Ledger on Feb. 22 said he "brought renown to UMC and the state of Mississippi for advances in medical science that literally caused the world to pause and take notice at a time in Mississippi's history when the state was receiving almost daily national publicity that chronicled the lawless violence and racial intolerance of the civil rights era. . . Dr. Hardy reminded the world that Mississippi was a repository of great intellectual curiosity, scientific competence and universal compassion for the human condition."

He was frequently recruited by other medical centers, but always turned them down. "He could have gone anywhere in the world, but chose to stay here," said Dr. Mart McMullan, a Jackson surgeon and Hardy trainee who gave the eulogy at Hardy's funeral service at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Jackson on Feb. 22.

"He was always loyal to what he called the enterprise at home."

McMullan described Hardy as indefatigable. "He directed a research team, ran a department and trained residents, and took night call as often as the residents. And at night at home and on trips, he wrote. . . voluminously."

Hardy authored more than 500 articles in medical journals, served as editor-in chief of the World Journal of Surgery, Surgical Capsule and Comment, and Advances in Surgery. He edited and wrote 23 books throughout his career, including two that became standard surgery texts in American medical schools.

And yet, McMullan said, he was always accessible to his residents and his patients. "If you called him in the middle of the night, he always said,"I'll be right there, and he arrived promptly. On many occasions, he would operate all night, be ready for rounds the next morning, and fly out the same day to give a lecture at another medical school."

His frequent presence in the operating room was no accident. Above all else, Hardy was a teacher. He had been trained by some of the leading names in surgery and he wanted his residents to be as exquisitely taught. He once said, "Our students and residents are here to learn to operate, and I couldn't help them very much if they never saw me in the OR. The final act of surgery, after all, is operating."

The Medical Center's debt to Hardy Can't be overstated. Before the Medical Center opened in 1955, as the departments were forming and building plans were being finalized, Hardy insisted that every member of the surgical faculty be board-certified. And that turned out to be a struggle for a new medical center in a state when only a small number of surgeons statewide were board-certified. But Hardy never wavered, and his insistence on the highest standards produced highly qualified surgeons for Mississippi.

It was one of his proudest accomplishments - training surgeons for Mississippi - and hardly any surgeon in the state can say he or she has not been influenced by James D. Hardy.

Hardy is survived by four daughters and six grandchildren. Dr. Louise Roeska-Hardy is professor of philosophy in Heidelburg and Frankfurt, Germany. Dr. Julia Ann Hardy is a psychiatrist in Ann Arbor, Mich. Dr. Bettie Winn Hardy is a clinical psychologist and director of the eating disorders program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. Dr. Katherine H. Little is medical director of the Diagnostic Center for Digestive Diseases at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.

Hardy's wife, his beloved "Weezie" (Louise Scott Sams Hardy), died in 2000 from Alzheimer's disease. McMullan said Hardy had confided in him several years ago that Weezie was showing signs of dementia.

"She took good care of me and the girls all these years, and it's my turn now," McMullan said Hardy told him.

"When she had to be admitted to the Alzheimer's unit at St. Catherine's, Dr. Hardy went every day, like clockwork. He took her to a bench where they talked and talked and talked. To this day, the bench is known as the 'Hardy Love Bench.'

"He was devoted to his wife, and he treated her with great dignity and respect," McMullan said, recalling the Valentine Day party at St. Catherine's when the couple "danced until after every other patient was put to bed. There wasn't a dry eye in the house."

Hardy donated his vast collection of rare medical books to the Rowland Medical Library in her name.

The editorial in the Clarion-Ledger concluded, "His (Hardy's) contributions to mankind will make his name live forever in the prouder chapters of our State's history."

His contributions to surgery, this Medical Center and to his family are an enduring testament to how much one life, purposefully led, can influence the course of human history.

Dr. William Turner, chairman of the Department of Surgery and the James D. Hardy Professor of Surgery, believes Hardy well knew how important his influence would be.

"Having spent time reading and viewing his voluminous work, I am convinced that Dr. Hardy realized from an early age that his was a life destined to matter significantly. Perhaps unconsciously, he must have felt compelled to record that life in so many different ways - personal journals, correspondence, publications, films, talk, and the training of students. That compulsion has left us with a record of priceless value. There will always be something that we can learn from Dr. Hardy."