Jim Nuckolls ’61

James “Jim” Garland Nuckolls, MD, MACP, age 80, of Galax, VA passed away peacefully on January 6, 2020, at Summit Square Retirement Community in Waynesboro, Virginia.

Jim was born September 20, 1939, in Galax, Virginia to Earl Garland Nuckolls and Virginia Witherow Nuckolls.  He graduated from Galax High School in 1957 where he was a standout athlete and president of the student body. He attended Davidson College on a basketball scholarship and graduated in 1961. 

While there, he played under Coach Charles Grice “Lefty” Driesell and in his senior year helped lead the team to victory over the nationally-ranked Wake Forest Demon Deacons while his future bride, Mary Lily Johnson, cheered in the stands.  They married a year and a half later on June 16, 1962, at the Duke University Chapel, where she had attended college.

At an early age, Jim was inspired by his neighbor, Dr. Virgil J. Cox, to pursue a career in medicine.  After finishing his undergraduate studies, he attended Duke University Medical School where he graduated in 1966. His medical school experience included six months at Middlesex Hospital, London, England, and three months in a USPHS Tropical Medicine Fellowship at Duke’s International Center for Medical Research and Training in San Jose, Costa Rica.

After medical school, he served his country as a Lieutenant with the USPHS and was stationed at Fort McPherson in Atlanta.  He was assigned to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the Assistant Chief in the Arbovirus Infections Unit and Emory University School of Medicine as an Instructor of Medicine.

While on an assignment for the CDC he investigated a mysterious outbreak in Pontiac, Michigan where he also contracted the disease.  It was named Pontiac Fever and later researchers identified it as the first outbreak of what is now known as Legionnaire’s disease.

Upon completion of his service, he returned to Duke University for his Internship and Residency as the Carnegie-Commonwealth Clinical Scholar.  During this time, he served as Chief Resident of the Department of Medicine and as one of the Medical Directors of the newly formed Physician’s Assistant Program.

After finishing his residency, Jim returned home in 1972 and began practicing Internal Medicine from his clinic which he named Blue Ridge Heath Associates.  He recruited other accomplished physicians and they later joined the Carilion Health System.  While at Carilion he served as the Medical Director for their Physician Services Division while still maintaining his practice.

While Jim served his local community, he also played a role in giving back to his profession.  He trained and served as a mentor to many students entering the field.  He was very active with the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program in providing grants to support students and innovative research.  He was also very involved in the national debate over health policy and helped promote policies aimed at advancing the role of primary care physicians. 

In 1977, the American Society of Internal Medicine (ASIM), which later combined with the American College of Physicians, awarded him the honor of Young Internist of the Year.  He also served in numerous leadership roles with ASIM and served as their President from 1988 to 1989.  

He was a Fellow in the American College of Physicians, receiving his Mastership in 2006, and was elected a member of the National Academy of Medicine, formerly the Institute of Medicine in 1992.

Jim lived life with incredible passion and played as hard as he worked.  He exercised regularly and played basketball his entire life.  In 2004, Jim began playing National Seniors Basketball with several teams.  In 2014 his senior basketball team, Vintage USA, won the National Seniors Championship.

Froggy Bottom Farm on the New River was his home for more than forty years.  He loved entertaining family and friends while watching the sunset over the river and mountains.  The farm was also where he enjoyed horseback riding, fishing, turkey hunting, wood carving, artwork, and making furniture.   He was also concerned with preserving the river and its surroundings for future generations and took a number of actions to accomplish this. 

Music was always present in Jim’s life and he loved old-time and bluegrass music and played the banjo and guitar.  He could be found annually at the Galax Fiddlers’ Convention and rarely went anywhere where he was a stranger.

Jim is survived by his loving wife of 57 years, Mary Lily Johnson Nuckolls, their three children and six grandchildren: James Garland Nuckolls, Jr. and Dawn Murrell Nuckolls, D.O. and his children James “Jimmy” Garland Nuckolls, III, and Jacob Ray Nuckolls of Johnson City, TN.; Stephen Witherow Nuckolls and Anne Hill Nuckolls and their children Lily Katherine Nuckolls and Stephen “Whit” Witherow Nuckolls, Jr. of New Bern, NC; Faison Nuckolls Dana and Matthew “Matt” Paul Dana and their children Eliza Louise Dana and Clark Matthew Dana of Staunton, VA. He is also survived by his brother and sister-in-law William “Bill” Eugene Nuckolls and Janet Dolinger Nuckolls, of Galax and their family.

The family welcomes friends to a visitation at 3pm, Saturday, January 11, 2020 to be followed by a service in celebration of his life at 4pm.  Both events will be at the First United Methodist Church, 306 West Center Street, Galax, Virginia.  

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to:Galax First United Methodist Church,Virginia Witherow Nuckolls Endowment, PO Box 445,306 W Center Street,Galax, VA 24333 or Chestnut Creek School of the Arts,100 N Main Street, Galax, VA 24333