In Memoriam: Jesse H. Meredith, MD, House Staff ’58

An older man with white hair and glasses smiles as he looks at the camera. he is wearing a suit and tie.

Jesse H. Meredith, MD, House Staff ’58, professor emeritus of surgery, died peacefully on April 27 at the age of 98. He was a world-renowned pioneer, innovator and legend in his field. His son, J. Wayne Meredith, MD ’78, House Staff ’84, FACS, MCCM, chief of chairs and chair of surgery, has added to his family’s legacy of leadership with the school and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

The elder Meredith was a towering presence, both literally and figuratively, who compiled an impressive career while also helping thousands of people through simple acts of generosity or kindness. He powerfully influenced countless residents, students and patients.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a student who didn’t enjoy rotating with him,” Patricia Adams, MD ’74, a frequent colleague of his in the operating room, once said. “He listened to you. He didn’t turn you loose, but he made you participate. And, of course, he was funny.”

Meredith grew up on a farm in Fancy Gap, Va., that lacked electricity. He attended Elon College, where he met his wife, Lillian, who was his companion in marriage for 70 years until her death. He later served in the U.S. Army as a glider trooper during World War II. Afterward, he attended engineering school at N.C. State University for a year before attending the medical schools at UNC Chapel Hill and Case Western Reserve University. He interned at Bellevue Hospital in New York and completed residencies in general and thoracic surgery and cardiovascular surgery at Wake Forest Baptist before launching his surgical career.

In the early 1960s, Meredith designed the first intensive care unit in North Carolina at Wake Forest Baptist, which was also one of the first units of its kind in the nation. In 1965, he performed the nation’s first hand re-implantation surgery, and he was the first surgeon to do a kidney transplant at Wake Forest Baptist. He is credited with starting the organ transplantation program, and he established and became director of the first burn unit and tissue bank in North Carolina. Meredith also founded and served as the first director of the School of Medicine’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

In addition to his vast accomplishments at Wake Forest Baptist, Meredith served on what is now known as the N.C. Commission for Public Health for 40 years and as its chairman for 30 years, helping pass more than 2,000 public health regulations while never missing a meeting. He retired in 1993 after a 41-year career at Wake Forest Baptist, but he continued to serve as a member of the institutional review board for many years. In 2003, the Wake Forest School of Medicine Medical Alumni Association awarded him the Distinguished Faculty Award. In 2010, the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine named its surgery research center in his honor. In 2011, the American Medical Association presented him with its Distinguished Service Award.

Describing Wake Forest Baptist, Meredith once said, “The interaction between people—students, doctors, patients, nurses, everybody—that is its heart and soul.”

Survivors include three sons, Wayne and his wife, Gayle; Dwight; and Michael and his wife, Rebecca; six grandchildren and two great-grandsons.

Memorial gifts may be made to the Jesse H. Meredith Visiting Professorship in Surgery or the Meredith Student Research Support Fund, Office of Philanthropy and Alumni Relations, Wake Forest School of Medicine, PO Box 571021, Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1021.