Friday, January 23, 2015

TOP STORY >> Funeral for doctor Saturday

Leader editor in-chief

Dr. Thomas Henry Wortham, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 88, worked as a physician well into his 80s, retiring in 2013 after a 60-year career in medicine — mostly in Jacksonville.

Wortham, who became a physician at the age of 26, was a small-town doctor most of his life. He was unassuming, taking care of patients, delivering babies, making house calls and teaching generations of medical students.

He was born Jan. 12, 1927, in Waldo (Columbia County) to Daisy Nell Alsobrook Wortham and Marvin Winston Wortham.

Wortham graduated in 1944 from Magnolia High School, where he met his future wife, Betty Jean Moore. He served in the Navy from 1944-1946 as a corpsman.

His ship was headed for Japan in the summer of 1945 when it turned back after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, his daughter Jan recalled.

“He loved what he did,” his daughter said. “He loved Arkansas. He said you had to talk Arkie to your patients so they could understand you.”

She said her father’s mother raised three children as a single mom. Another son, James, also became a doctor.

After the war, Wortham, then 19, hitchhiked to Fayetteville from Little Rock to begin college on the GI Bill.

He graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1951, then received his medical degree in 1953 from UAMS, graduating magna cum laude.

He was also awarded the Faculty Key as the outstanding student for four years of medical school and received the Joseph Roberts Award as the outstanding scholar for four years of medical school.

Tom and Betty were married in 1953 and moved to St. Louis to start his residency.

After his residency, the Worthams moved to Jacksonville in 1956, the year after the opening of Little Rock Air Force Base.

Dr. Wortham ran a thriving family practice clinic for 43 years in Jacksonville.

Dr. Wortham helped expand medical and other community services in Jacksonville to meet the health needs of a growing military community.

As president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Wortham shook hands with President John Kennedy when he landed at the air base on his way to the dedication of Greers Ferry Dam in October 1963.

The doctor rallied community support for funding a local hospital and then helped establish Rebsamen Medical Center, which opened in January 1962. He served in many capacities at Rebsamen before retiring as vice president in 1999.

Dr. Wortham helped develop the coronary-care unit at Rebsamen, as well as one of the first paramedic ambulance services. Appointed by Gov. Dale Bumbers to serve as a member of the Board of Corrections for 10 years, he was a catalyst for major improvements in prison health care, too.

He also worked without pay as the medical director for the Jacksonville Fire Department.

He served on many UAMS boards and committees and volunteered as a clinical preceptor for College of Medicine residents and students, as well as the UAMS Family Medical Clinic. He worked at the clinic for 13 years, retiring in 2013 at the age of 87.

Dr. K. Morgan Sauer, one of his students, took care of Dr. Wortham at hospice. Dr. Sauer said Dr. Wortham had taught him how to deal with grief.

He was an avid Razorbacks fan and a scholarship donor. Dr. Wortham was also a pilot, flying his family to many destinations and was a member of the Flying Physicians Association. He performed FAA physicals for 35 years.

A memorial service will held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Little Rock. In lieu of flowers, one may donate to Trinity Presbyterian or to the donor’s charity.

Jan Wortham, his daughter, said her father will be buried at Chapel Hill Memorial Park in Jacksonville next to his wife, who died in 2009.