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A Man to Match Our Mountains: Beloved Local Doctor Herman Godwin Retires from ARHS

By Jessica Isaacs

New Year’s Day marked a fresh new opportunity for people everywhere who are ready to make a change in their lives. The same is true for Dr. Herman Godwin, who retired on Dec. 31 from his role as chief medical officer of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.

Dr. Herman Godwin and wife Reneé are pictured with their French bulldog named Lucé. Photo by Darren Sheely.

Throughout his lengthy professional career, patients and colleagues alike appreciate this beloved oncologist for his genuine compassion, vast knowledge and outstanding leadership.

The son of two educators, Godwin was raised in Dunn, North Carolina. After studying at several of the nation’s most prestigious institutions, he first started practicing hematology and oncology in Charlotte in the 1970s.

He started seeing patients in the High Country on a part-time basis in the early ’90s and, by 1999, was on board as the full-time medical director for Watauga Medical Center.

Godwin retired from active practice in the late 2000s, but remained on-staff at ARHS serving in a leadership capacity as medical director.

“Medicine has afforded me the extraordinary good fortune to be involved in and with mankind,” Godwin said in a recent release from ARHS. “I could not be more grateful for the opportunity.”

His friends and colleagues at the hospital hosted a surprise retirement party for him in early December. The 78-year-old now looks forward to spending more time with his wife Reneé, their six children and their 11 grandchildren.

Click here to read more on his recent retirement from ARHS and read the following story, which was first printed in the June 2008 edition of High Country Magazine, to learn more about Godwin’s life, career and legacy.


“A Man to Match Our Mountains”

Story by Bill F. Hensley / Photography by Darren Sheely

During his long and distinguished medical career, Dr. Herman Godwin, Jr. of Blowing Rock didn’t find a cure for cancer. But that’s about the only thing the famed physician didn’t accomplish.

Godwin, 71, who retired recently from active practice at Watauga Medical Center, leaves a legacy of perfection, and he will always be known and highly respected for his caring, compassionate devotion to his patients and fellow physicians.

Godwin consults with patient Earl Watson (right) at the Seby B. Jones Cancer Center in Boone before his retirement from active practice in 2008. Photo by Darren Sheely.

Tall, stately and personable, the kindly doctor was a popular and beloved friend to those he served, and he wrote the book on bedside manner, building a strong reputation throughout the state and nation. Because of the dramatic impact he made in the area, his retirement from patient care leaves a tremendous void in the High Country medical profession.

Dr. Francis Robicsek of Charlotte, one of the nation’s top heart specialists, said, “Herman Godwin is the best doctor I ever met. He has superior intellect, unbelievable knowledge, diagnostic acumen and a warm and caring heart. If you draw a mental picture of a physician, a patient treater, you draw Herman.”

To Godwin’s colleagues and patients, Dr. Robicsek’s comment is right on target and sums up the many unique factors that made Godwin an outstanding member of the medical profession.

For a story on Godwin, the late Dr. Jacob Freedland of Charlotte once told a reporter for the Charlotte Observer, “He is the personification of what a doctor should be. I was moved by the way he treated my wife after she was diagnosed with cancer.”

During his 45-year medical career, Godwin has been legendary for his friendliness, calming voice, gentle touch, genuine concern and the ability to focus on the patient and not the disease. He became known as the “doctors’ doctor” and the “nurses’ doctor,” emphasizing the trust and respect he had earned from his colleagues. He believed in giving hugs instead of handshakes.

Frequently, Godwin would give patients his home telephone number and tell them to call him if they had problems, and he often made house calls, stopping by to see someone who might be in need of medical help.

“Getting involved with patients is something that came naturally,” the noted doctor said. “The best part of being an oncologist is building relationships with people. I am quick to establish friendships but that, of course, makes me vulnerable when a patient experiences difficulties.”

Godwin said that the worst part of being a cancer specialist is losing patients. “That really hurts,” he remarked, “because I feel as if I have failed the patient. But I am encouraged by the fact that more than half of the patients diagnosed with cancer now survive.”

John Blackburn of Linville, who chairs the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System Board of Trustees, said, “Dr. Godwin has been a treasure to our community. He is a highly regarded physician and a positive leader. He has the rare talent to identify issues, discuss alternatives and resolve problems. The Seby Jones Cancer Center and the patients served there are a small example of his vision and leadership.”

Making ward rounds on Peabody 1 at Boston City Hospital, 1964, are left to right, Frank E. Speizer, Herman A. Godwin, Robert A. Buccino, Max Finland, Theodore Stack, John J. Tudo, and a patient with acute rhematic fever. Courtesy of the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

Godwin said that his devotion to his patients comes from his small-town background and the fact that his parents taught him human values at an early age. “I was blessed with caring parents and excellent mentors who helped shape my life throughout my career. I was very fortunate,” he said.

At Harvard University, Godwin was the Francis Weld Peabody Fellow in Medicine. “I took to heart the philosophy of Dr. Peabody who said that the care of the patient lies in caring for the patient. It was evident early on that if one is going into cancer medicine, he must have a degree of humanity and compassion for patients and their families,” Godwin said.

A native of Dunn, N.C., and a former resident of Charlotte, Godwin came to the High Country in 1999 after more than 20 years of a highly successful practice in Charlotte. When he stepped away, he was medical director of the Blumenthal Cancer Center at Carolinas Medical Center, a center he had worked to establish. He had planned to enjoy a quiet life in the mountains and do a lot of reading, hiking, gardening and traveling with his wife, Renée. An avid sports fan, he also planned to keep up with the athletic exploits of his beloved Tar Heels.

But it didn’t take long for him to miss his practice and the close association with patients, so he signed on as medical director of Watauga Medical Center and resumed his work with cancer patients. He practiced until October 2006 when he announced his retirement. He continues to serve the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, however, as a senior vice president and medical director, working three days a week.

“I work closely with medical staff,” Godwin explained, “and help solve problems. We have special concerns about the quality of patient care at our three hospital facilities, so I spend considerable time on patient care issues.”

ARHS President and CEO Richard Sparks (right) is pictured with Godwin. Sparks calls Godwin “a special individual that may pass your way once in a lifetime.” Photo by Darren Sheely.

Richard Sparks, president and CEO of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, called Godwin “a special individual that may pass your way once in a lifetime.

“He has boundless intellect,” Sparks continued, “which is overshadowed only by the size of his heart. He loves people and helping people. We are so fortunate to have had him share his skills and hope for others with us for the past 15 years. Now Dr. Godwin is helping us improve our performance to achieve higher levels of quality. I treasure the opportunity I have had to work with him.”

A self-proclaimed “small-town boy,” Godwin made straight As in high school in Dunn. He earned a coveted Morehead Scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and achieved Phi Beta Kappa honors as a junior in 1958.

He was chosen as a Reynolds Scholar at Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem where he attended medical school, graduating in 1963. He did his residency training on the Harvard Medical Services at Boston City Hospital, after which he joined the Harvard faculty. From 1967 to 1999, he taught medicine at Harvard and then at Baylor, as well as UNC in Charlotte.

Throughout his distinguished career, Godwin achieved a long list of academic honors and accolades. He is widely known as a gifted teacher, practitioner, innovator, researcher and statesman. What’s more, he has authored a wide variety of medical papers and is a sought-after consultant. He has served on numerous prestigious medical boards.

“He was quite simply the best, most respected doctor I have known,” said Mrs. Basil Boyd of Charlotte whose late husband was a colleague of Godwin’s. “His reputation is impeccable, and he earned it by being truly compassionate. There is no one like him.”

Currently, Godwin and his wife enjoy traveling when he is not involved in his work. The couple is also active in the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum and the Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church where he is an elder. A non-golfer, the affable doctor is a member of the Blowing Rock Country Club.

“The many contributions Herman Godwin made to the High Country will not be forgotten,” offered John Blackburn. “In every way, he is a man to match our mountains.”