Dr. James Alexander Bryan II, “Jim” named for his grandfather, the Reverend James A. Bryan, “Brother Bryan of Birmingham,” passed away on January 8, 2021 at age 88 after a fulfilling life.
His beloved wife, Elizabeth (Betsy) Russell Bryan from Waco, Texas met him in the summer of 1953 when they both worked in Montreat, NC. They married in 1956, and were constant partners and companions for over 64 years, raising a family of 4 children and nine grandchildren.
Jim, the eldest of 3 children, was born in Tokyo, Japan on June 18, 1932, where his father, the Reverend Harry Haywood Bryan and mother, Margaret Hollingsworth Lancaster Bryan were serving as Presbyterian missionaries. The family returned to the United States in 1941 due to the war.
Jim spent his formative years in Bessemer, Alabama, where he attained the rank of Eagle Scout and served as president of the student body of Bessemer High School. He enrolled in Davidson College at the age of 16, and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1953 with a B.S. in Chemistry (Phi Beta Kappa).
After college graduation, he entered the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, graduating in 1957 with his M.D. (Alpha Omega Alpha). After medical school, Jim stayed on at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for further training, completing his internship, residency and a fellowship in Hematology. Jim and Betsy deeply cherished their time and friendships while at Penn, and returned many times to Philadelphia and surrounding areas for reunions and visits.
In 1961, in order to fulfill his national service obligation, Jim entered the U.S. Public Health Service at the Communicable Disease Center in Atlanta (now the CDC), where he was an officer in the Epidemic Intelligence Service, Polio Surveillance Unit. In 1964, the Bryans moved to Chapel Hill and Dr. Bryan joined the Department of Medicine at the University of North Carolina Medical School, where he began a distinguished career as a clinician and a teacher at UNC that spanned 50 years.
During his career, he was a respected and beloved teacher and mentor to thousands of medical students and residents, including teaching the popular Introduction to Medicine course for 18 years. His connection with medical students is best expressed by an alum, “[Jim] taught me, and many others, that each patient was an individual worthy of respect and kindness. He taught me how to deal with the difficult. He also was an exceedingly excellent mentor and fantastic physician.”
Jim’s focus extended to helping improve healthcare and access to it for all North Carolinians. He earned a Masters in Public Health degree from UNC in 1966, and assisted with expansion of medical education and community medical services locally and throughout the State. He provided physician coverage for the medically underserved in Chapel Hill and other areas through many organizations, including the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC Clinic) which still operates today, the N.C. Area Health Education Centers program which improved quality and distribution of medical care in communities outside of academic medical centers, serving the Interfaith Council Clinic, and establishing a community-based continuing care clinic to provide for citizens who did not have access to adequate healthcare. Care for others, whether a patient, student, colleague, or anyone he came across, was central to Jim’s character. He set an example of humane and compassionate care, and had a strong commitment as advocate for all his patients.
Jim received several awards both at UNC and nationally, that recognized his excellence as a physician and teacher.
Due to his humble nature, he never wanted to draw attention to these honors. But meaningful to him among the awards were several that underscored the bond he valued so highly with his medical students, notably being selected multiple times by graduating UNC Medical School classes for “The Professor Award” to recognize significant contributions to their education.
In 1984, Jim was honored by UNC as a recipient of the O. Max Gardner Award, selected system-wide from all UNC campuses each year for faculty who have made the greatest contributions to the welfare of the human race. He served as a governor for North Carolina in the American College of Physicians, and in 2002 was named a Master in the American College of Physicians, recognizing his excellence as a practitioner.
Jim’s contributions to bringing hospice care to North Carolina were very important to him.
In 1974, as part of a small group of advocates, he helped establish a model for hospice and palliative care, and within a few years hospice care was available across the entire State. In 2017, UNC Healthcare honored the Bryans by opening the SECU Jim & Betsy Bryan Hospice Home in Chatham County.
The Presbyterian church and his strong faith were cornerstones in Jim’s life.
Jim and Betsy cherished their lifelong involvement in the church, including the community at University Presbyterian Church. Montreat was a special place for Jim from childhood, where he formed bonds with close friends, and pursued his love of the outdoors. Jim also deeply loved music, whether through his melodic and audible participation in the tenor section of the UPC church choir or taking in musical performances, particularly classical.
A favorite story was Jim picking up a phone call from one of the Bryan children, who quickly figured out that he was simultaneously listening to opera, reading a book, and watching his beloved Carolina Tarheels play basketball. While always a Davidson College man at heart with a deep lifetime connection to his undergraduate alma mater, UPenn, UNC and Chapel Hill were all very important to Jim throughout his life. Jim became a diehard Carolina fan quickly, which continued throughout the family’s decades of living in Chapel Hill.
Jim had a strong family life and was a proud and adoring husband, father and grandfather, as well as a devoted son and brother. Family and many friends loved him so much, and he loved them all back. In addition to his parents, Harry and Peggy Bryan, he was predeceased by his brother, Dr. Edwin L. Bryan (Ned) of Greensboro. Jim is survived by his wife Betsy, of Chapel Hill, and children Dr. Jamie Bryan (Anne) of Chapel Hill, Russell Bryan (Scott) of Charlotte, Dr. Clayton Bryan (Maria) of Asheville, and Elizabeth Poteat (Dr. Tony Poteat) of Greenville, South Carolina. In addition, Jim is survived by his sister, Mary Clayton Bryan DuBard and her husband James of Durham, NC, formerly of Birmingham, and his sister-in-law, Joan D. Bryan of Greensboro. Jim loved his nine grandchildren, Carolyn, Alison and Anderson Bryan, Scotty and Pheriby Bryan, Holly and Worth Bryan, and Thomas and Sarah Poteat. He is also survived by many, cousins, nieces and nephews and their families, all of whom he adored.
A memorial service to celebrate Jim’s life will be held on Saturday January 23rd at 11:00 a.m. Due to Covid restrictions, the service will not be attended in person, but will be streamed on the web via a Zoom link. To receive the link, please email University Presbyterian Church at : email@example.com The service will be recorded and available afterward at www.upcch.org
Gifts in Jim’s memory can be made to the following organizations: UNC Hospice c/o UNC Health Foundation of North Carolina P.O. Box 1050 Chapel Hill, NC 27514-1050; University Presbyterian Church 209 East Franklin Street Chapel Hill, NC 27514; Montreat Conference Center 401 Assembly Drive Montreat, NC 28757
Published from Jan. 16 to Jan. 17, 2021.