With Integrity and Dignity: The Life of James W. Colbert, Jr., M.D.

A New Era for MUSC

Colbert MUSC
James W. Colbert, Jr., M.D., circa 1969.
Waring Historical Library, MUSC, Charleston

Colbert MUSC announcement
“New Vice President Appointed”, February 11, 1969
The Post and Courier, Charleston, SC

On February 1, 1969, James W. Colbert, Jr., M.D. arrived at the Medical University of South Carolina as its first Vice President for Academic Affairs. Dr. Colbert’s years of experience at Yale, St. Louis, and NIH prepared him for the administrative challenges at MUSC. During his five years of service, Dr. Colbert oversaw the Medical University during a period of unparalleled growth. A visionary, facilitator, and advocate, Dr. Colbert worked with faculty and staff to strengthen the university’s core missions – education, research, and patient care. His work laid the foundation for MUSC’s rise as a nationally renowned academic medical center.

Dr. Colbert was a man of great diplomacy, fairness, and pragmatism. These skills proved invaluable as he worked to improve relations between the university and Charleston’s private practice physicians. They also played an important role in his ability to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the volatile and racially divisive 1969 Hospital Workers Strike. 

Dr. Colbert served on numerous national committees.  He was a member of the National Institutes of Health’s Medical Education Review Committee, of the National Advisory Board for Selective Service System for Physicians and Surgeons, of the Veterans Administration’s Institutional Research Review Committee, and of the Board of Directors of the Health Education Media Association.  He was also a lecturer in Advanced Study Programs of the Brookings Institute. 

Among state and regional appointments, Dr. Colbert served as chairman of the Regional Advisory Group to the South Carolina Regional Medical Program, and as a member of the South Carolina Joint Practice Commission with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.   

He was a member of many professional organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Alpha Omega Alpha Honorary Medical Society and Sigma Xi Honorary Scientific Society.  

Dr. Colbert played a major role in the development of South Carolina’s statewide system of health education (AHEC), and was instrumental in developing the Medical University’s Family Practice Program.

Historical records suggest that Dr. Colbert was the likely successor to Dr. William M. McCord as president of the Medical University.  However, on September 11, 1974, Dr. Colbert and his sons, Paul and Peter, were tragically killed in an airplane accident in Charlotte, North Carolina.  He was survived by his wife Lorna, and Nine children: James III, Edward, Mary, William, Margaret, Thomas, John, Elizabeth, and Stephen.