On Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, our family’s biggest Duke Blue Devil fan gained his celestial wings. Henry Vann Austin, M.D., passed away peacefully at his home in Pinehurst.
Born in Clinton, on Feb. 3, 1941, he was a son of the late James Leon and Louise Vann Austin. He graduated from Clinton High School in 1959, and Davidson College 1963. In 1967 he graduated from Duke University School of Medicine; Internal Medicine and Rheumatology, House Staff 1971.
While attending Duke University School of Medical, Vann joined the Blue Devil Club and campaigned throughout the hospital to encourage staff to attend football and basketball games. The Blue Devil Club became The Iron Dukes Athletic Club of which he was a founding lifetime member. He is a lifetime member of Duke Medical Alumni Association. Vann was inducted into The Founders Society of Duke University, where he received the Sower Award statue.
While in Duke residency, Vann met lifetime friend and traveling buddy Joseph Vilseck, MD. Through Vann’s support with his “college chum,” Dr. Vilseck, the initial reception hall was built and dedicated to them. The reception hall was named in their honor: Austin Vilseck Hall – Duke Sports Hall of Fame.
Vann always said he had Duke Blue Blood. He kept track of all the basketball recruits and would enlighten everyone about his fabulous team. He chose his lifetime seat in Cameron Indoor Stadium on the aisle directly across from the team. He loved traveling with the basketball team to many ACC tournaments, NCAA tournament games and several Final Fours.
Drafted in 1971, during the Vietnam War, Maj. Austin, M.D., served two years in the U.S. Army at Fort Carson, Colorado Springs, Colo. Upon completion of military service, Vann joined the Pinehurst Medical Clinic to support the community in the care of the internal medicine and rheumatology patients. He often said he loved working with PMC and providing care for many types of patients; however, the problem was 24-hour call. In 1995, he left PMC and founded Pinehurst Rheumatology, his medical passion. His patients loved him because he was a “real doctor.” He always had time to sit and talk. If the ladies wore a hat into the office, he had to model it for everyone. His office was decorated with Duke basketball memorabilia and posters. Many thanks to his partner with Pinehurst Rheumatology, Kara Martin, M.D., and office staff Pam, De, Rita, Gwen, Robin, Karen, Suz, Ronnie and others.
Vann was an avid golfer. While in the military, Vann’s dad influenced his decision to join the Country Club of North Carolina. Vann joked that he moved to Pinehurst as a member of CCNC, with his wife and two children, and $100 in the bank. He was a member from 1972 to 2004; and 2010 to current. He played many, many rounds of golf and despised losing. He practiced every evening after work and would play nine holes with anyone who was interested. After nine holes, Lyn never knew how many CCNC assistant pros would be invited to dinner.
Vann would say to say thank you to his lifetime friends Joseph Vilseck, M.D. (Slow Joe), Mike McBrayer (Big Mike), Buddy Mackey (Budman), Barbara Cole (Bobbie), Nell (Lotta Woman) and her husband, the late Jack Hatcher (Hatch-man), John and Helen Hammerschmidt (Hammer and Mz. Helen), Sted Morris, Ed Dalrymple, Raffaele Gironda, Ronnie Durant and many more.
Vann loved his family and friends even more than Duke. He was very proud of his son, “Mr. G, the bumble bee” and daughter, “Ash-Pash.” He loved his granddaughter, Lily “the four-footer.” At the park, he would ride the stationary hobby horse with her so she couldn’t fall off.
The vicious disease, Alzheimer’s, robbed Vann of his memory. While he could not recall names, he always recognized family and friends. Even when he couldn’t express himself verbally, he was always pleasant and loved to sing and dance.
In addition to his parents, Vann was predeceased by his maternal grandparents, Henry Vann Sr. (N.C. State Senator) and Madge Williams Vann; paternal grandparents, Durwood E. Austin and Pauline Gulley Austin; and his sister, Rose Austin.
In 2019, Vann’s wife of 26 years, Lyn Prickett Austin, retired to take care of him. He was her best friend and love of her life. In addition to Lyn, he is survived by his children, Gregory Vann Austin, of Pinehurst, Ashley Austin Kelly (Brendon), of Raleigh; sister, Deborah Austin, of Raleigh; one special granddaughter, Lily Elizabeth Austin, of Pinehurst; and his many fantastic nieces and nephews, Forde Aley (Sherry), Leigh Aley Holmes (Lee), Austin Aley (Christy) Amanda Pulley Penland (Jerrod) and Kelly Austin Kline (Tyler).
Vann & Lyn would like to thank his caregivers for many hours of tender loving care. They would sing to him and dance to make him smile. Lyn could not have survived without these fine people. Many thank-yous to Charles Wall, Alveda Person, Katina Marable, Marsay Smith, Jackie Bloomfield, Evelyn Brewer and Karen McNeill.
A memorial service honoring Vann’s life will be 2 p.m., Saturday, March 4, at Carthage United Methodist Church, with the Rev. Vic Hill presiding.
The family will receive friends at Fry and Prickett Funeral Home, 402 E. Saunders St., in Carthage, on Friday evening from 6 to 8 p.m.
Vann requested you to wear Duke Blue if you decide to celebrate his life by attending his funeral. Instead of saying goodbye to everyone, Vann would have wanted to tell each of you, “Have a great Duke Blue Devil Day!”
In lieu of flowers, make donations to Iron Dukes Athletics, 110 Whitford Drive, Room 367, Box 90542, Durham, NC 27708; or to Carthage Food Pantry, P.O. Box 1481, Carthage, NC 28327.