JOHN LAZELLE SAWYERS, M.D.
John L. Sawyers, MD, FACS died March 18, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 90. He was preceded in death by his wife of 54 years, Julia Edwards Sawyers, MD. His three children, Charles, Al and Julia, survive him.
Dr. Sawyers was born on a farm in Centerville, Iowa and was inspired to study medicine by is paternal grandfather – a surgeon for whom he was named. He did not enjoy farm work - he once said, “farm work is good stimulation for studying hard in school”. He excelled in his studies and entered Princeton University in 1943, but enlisted in the United States Navy and was transferred to the University of Rochester as part of the Navy V-12 College Training Program and graduated in 1946. He entered the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine that year and graduated in 1949. He served his internship in surgery at Hopkins under Dr. Alfred Blalock. He then began his residency at Vanderbilt, but was returned to service in the Navy during the Korean Conflict. He returned to Vanderbilt for his residency in 1953 under Dr. H. William Scott whom he had met while a student and intern at Hopkins. He met Julia Edwards, MD while he was a resident beginning their 54-year marriage. He completed the residency at Vanderbilt in 1958 quickly rose in rank. He served as Surgeon in Chief of the Metropolitan Nashville General Hospital from 1960-1977 and as Surgeon in Chief of the St. Thomas Hospital from 1977- 1982. Upon Dr. Scott’s retirement in 1982 he served as Interim Director of the Section of Surgical Sciences and was named Director of the Section of Surgical Sciences in 1983 and retired from that post in 1993.
Dr. Sawyers was a prolific academic surgeon publishing over 270 scientific articles, book chapters and books. He published broadly in the field of general surgery but was internationally recognized as a true expert in the management of peptic ulcer disease. He presented numerous named lectures and served as a visiting professor at many national and international venues.
Dr. Sawyers served his profession in many leadership positions. He represented the American College of Surgeons as President of the Tennessee Chapter, as a Governor of the ACS and Chair of the Advisory Council for General Surgery. He served as President of the Southern Surgical Association at its Centennial meeting, The Southeastern Surgical Congress, The Halsted Society and The Southern Surgeons Club. He served as First Vice-President of the American Surgical Association and as Vice-President of the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association and as Vice-President of the Society of Surgery of the Alimentary Tract. His educational prominence was rewarded by serving as a Director of the American Board of Surgery and he additionally served as Chairman of the Residency Review Committee for Surgery.
John Sawyers was a “surgeon’s surgeon” – he saw patients or operated every day during his time as Director of the Section of Surgical Sciences. He had enviable talent in maintaining cordial relationships between the private surgical practice community in Nashville and the academic practice at Vanderbilt. He was always available to help out junior faculty in tough situations during difficult surgical procedures. He was an extremely approachable mentor to countless surgical students, residents and young faculty. The John L. Sawyers Chair of Surgery at Vanderbilt University was established in his honor by many of his students, residents and faculty shortly after his retirement.
KENNETH W. SHARP, M.D.