Amidst good humor and heartfelt admiration, two long-time friends were recognized Thursday night for their dedication to keeping Mississippi's children healthy.
At the celebration, Dr. Edwin P. Harmon, chief of pediatric urology, was named the first James E. Keeton, M.D. Chair of Pediatric Urology, a newly endowed chair established with a $1 million gift from Friends of Children's Hospital.
Harmon and Keeton have been friends since 1972 when they met in the Medical Corps of the United States Navy. At the event, they were surrounded by their children, grandchildren and other friends, including one friend Keeton has known since "footie-pajama days."
Friends of Children's Hospital surprised Keeton, former vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, with the principal gift to establish the chair, which is meant to enhance research and clinical care in pediatric urology. It is the fourth endowed chair in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Dr. Dan Jones, chancellor of the University of Mississippi, introduced Keeton, noting that among Keeton's many talents, the strongest is his ability to bring people together.
"If you want to know something about compassion for other people and caring for other people, he's your man," Jones remarked.
"This is a personal honor for me, but that's not what this is about," said Keeton. "This is about the children of Mississippi. This is about improving health care in Mississippi. That's our whole mission at the Medical Center. That's our whole mission for the state of Mississippi."
Chairman of the Friends board Sara Ray has also known Keeton for more than 30 years. She thanked Keeton for advocating for Friends and Batson Children's Hospital. Speaking to the crowd, she told Keeton, "It was truly our honor and our pleasure to honor you because of your support," Ray said.
Earlier in 2015, Keeton stepped down from his position as vice chancellor. In that role, he led the Medical Center through five challenging years, including an economic recession and the rollout of the national health-care law. The Columbus native, who recently turned 75, currently serves as Distinguished Professor of Surgery/Pediatrics and Advisor to the Vice Chancellor of UMMC.
"The majority of his career was spent serving a very special group of children and there is no finer way, no better way, no more appropriate way to honor that lifetime of service than by this chair of pediatric urology named for him," said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. "And there's no finer individual to hold that chair than Dr. Ed Harmon."
Harmon, professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Pediatric Urology, completed residency training at UMMC in surgery/urology, but spent the majority of his career in New Orleans on the faculty of Tulane University Medical School and as chief of surgery and associate medical director for surgical services at Children's Hospital of New Orleans.
After receiving the medal from Woodward and Keeton, Harmon conveyed how humbled he was by the honor and joked, "This is my Academy Award."
He recounted the events that led to his return to the Medical Center in 2007, saying "I'm a great believer that God directs us if we just let him direct us."