Giving in Action: Welborn’s Healing Scholarship

From the Winter 2017 edition of Vanderbilt Medicine Magazine

Although grief robbed Bill Welborn, M.D. ‘67, BA ‘64, of the ability to express his feelings after the death of longtime friend, Bill Johnston, M.D. ‘67, BA ‘64, the scholarship Welborn created in memory of Johnston helped him make peace with the loss.

“Seeing Bill face Alzheimer’s created overwhelming feelings of frustration and sadness. Anyone who knew Bill also knew that there was no problem he couldn’t solve. He was so intelligent and hard working. It was excruciating to see him confronted with a dismal, incurable disease,” Welborn says.

Both Welborn and Johnston entered Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1964. As fellow Southerners, they also shared an apartment during their freshman year.

There were other similarities for the two friends. Both dated Peabody students, Mary Patsy Blair, BS ‘66, and Linda Herring, MA ‘68, BS ‘64, respectively, and both couples married on campus in the quaint Peabody Chapel.

Busy careers followed in the years after medical school but the two families got together whenever they could. Welborn has great memories of a canoe and camping trip the couples took through the Boundary Waters area and summer visits to the Johnston home on Pickwick Lake where Johnston’s barefoot waterskiing skills wowed the group.

The Welborns and Johnstons also stayed involved with Vanderbilt.

“For years, our trips back to campus revolved around Vanderbilt football games and Canby Robinson Society dinners. Bill was often on call during those events and I would make rounds with him. I learned to appreciate him as both an excellent surgeon and an excellent doctor. Bill was humble and kind to everyone he met.”

The biannual School of Medicine Reunion, held in October 2016, was bittersweet, with much of the class together without Bill.

“When Pat, his widow, crossed the stage to accept his 50-year award, there were tears streaming down her face, and mine too. I feel like words fail me when I try to describe the depth of sadness we all experienced when we lost Bill,” Welborn said.

“I can’t do justice to what a good person he was. He was a great teacher too—whether he was teaching us to water ski or teaching procedures to medical students on rounds. This scholarship was a way for me to make something good happen from our loss.”

As the first person in his family to attend college, Welborn knows that scholarships deliver extraordinary opportunities, and that was part of his inspiration to create the William D. Johnston, M.D., Memorial Scholarship.

“I knew I wanted to be a doctor since I was in elementary school. My scholarship made that dream possible, and I’m happy that I can create that possibility for another student while honoring Bill,” he said.