Clinton, South Carolina
Dr. James Lucas Walker, 98, beloved family physician, friend and mentor to generations of young people, died in Clinton, SC, on October 23, 2023. His last days were spent at the Presbyterian Community, surrounded by his sons.
Dr. Walker was born on July 27, 1925, to George Dawson Walker, a rural family doctor in Johnston, South Carolina, and his wife Nina Ouzts Walker, a church organist and piano teacher.
As a boy growing up in Johnston, it was not uncommon for young Jim to witness Depression-era patients pay for his father’s medical services by leaving bushels of vegetables or a handmade quilt on the family’s front porch.
Young Jim grew up with dreams of becoming a truck driver, sportswriter or professional baseball player. His ambitions were to change as he began riding through Edgefield County in a horse and buggy, joining his father on house calls. On these trips he observed the way his humble dad wisely and gently ministered to the sick and dying, as well as ushering into life most of the region’s black and white babies.
At the age of 16, Jim suffered the major loss of his formative years. His beloved father died suddenly following unsuccessful surgery for lung cancer, an illness that had been kept from his son. He was devastated.
The day of his father’s funeral in 1941, Jim’s uncle, aware of his desire to follow in his father’s footsteps, promised his nephew a loan of whatever tuition money it would take for him to become a doctor.
The following year Jim began his pre-med training at Wofford College. As the U.S. joined World War II, military medical officers were urgently needed. Jim’s studies were accelerated; he graduated from Wofford in the spring of 1944, enrolling at the Medical University of South Carolina.
By the time Jim graduated, the war had ended, so he began his internship and medical residency in July 1948 in Columbia, SC. There, on a blind date, he was introduced to Betty Koty, a successful young newspaper reporter at The State. Jim and Betty were married in Columbia on December 2, 1950.
Betty joined Jim in Clinton, SC, where he had set up a solo medical practice. But as the Korean War began to escalate, Jim felt he owed his country the service that he was unable to provide in WWII. He closed his Clinton practice and joined the Army in 1951, commissioned as a first lieutenant at Fort Jackson, SC.
Young Dr. Walker left for his Army medical training at Fort Houston in San Antonio, Texas, while Betty returned to Columbia, resuming her work as a journalist at The State.
In September 1951, Dr. Walker flew to Korea, where he was assigned to the 24th Infantry Division, serving on the front lines as Battalion Surgeon of the 3rd Battalion of the 19th Regiment.
After the conflict began to stabilize in favor of the U.S., Dr. Walker relocated to the 279th General Hospital near Osaka, Japan, and later Osaka Army Hospital. For his service in Korea, Dr. Walker was awarded the Bronze Star “for meritorious achievement in ground operations against hostile forces.”
After two long years, Jim returned to the U.S. in March 1953. He and Betty relocated to his final duty station (Fort Banks, Massachusetts), where he served the remainder of his commission. He was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in June 1953.
Betty and Jim returned to Clinton, where he picked up his fledgling medical practice. He was joined in 1954 by Dr. Jim Macdonald, who would remain his partner for the next 44 years.
In July 1954, Betty gave birth to their first of four sons — Jimmy, Bill, George and Andy. As his own father had decades before, Dr. Walker passed on to his boys the privilege of riding along with him on house calls throughout Laurens County.
Over his 50-year career, Dr. Walker offered healing and comfort equally among Clinton’s diverse populations; in the course of his years a family doctor, he delivered over 5,000 babies. In 1980, Drs. Walker and Macdonald welcomed to their practice a new young doctor, Holbrook Raynal, who remained with them for ten years.
Over the years, Dr. Walker became aware that the longstanding rivalry between the towns of Clinton and and Laurens — with their separate small hospitals — had become a detriment to the county’s challenging healthcare needs. As a board member of the newly formed Laurens County Healthcare System, Dr. Walker spearheaded the search for a remedy.
He became convinced that the best solution for solving the county’s medical needs was the construction of a modern, centrally-located hospital. This would mean raising taxes, never a popular solution in a cash-strapped county. Dr. Walker faced opposition from many community leaders, including some of his closest friends and colleagues.
It was a lonely quest, but he slowly managed to convince doubters that a state-of-the-art, centralized county hospital would not only best serve both communities, but also provide jobs and attract a diverse array of medical specialists to Laurens County.
In 1989 Laurens County Hospital finally opened its doors, exponentially improving the quality of heathcare in the region. Now owned by Prisma Health, the hospital has thrived for over four decades; it currently operates at capacity with 76 acute-care beds and 14 skilled nursing beds with an active medical staff of 55 physicians and 35 consulting physicians.
In 1989, Dr. Walker was chosen Family Physician of the Year by the South Carolina Academy of Family Physicians. He failed to mention this fact to anyone for months. When Betty found out, she suggested that their sons might also want to know. In December 1989, Dr. Walker accepted his award with a speech paying tribute to his father’s example as a poor, tireless horse-and-buggy family doctor in the early 1900s.
As a young father in Clinton, Jim Walker spent leisure time taking his boys fishing, and to the Presbyterian College tennis courts. Family vacations were spent at Pawleys Island. Dr. Walker later took up golf, making new friends at Lakeside Country Club, and later on the links of Fripp Island.
Over the years, Dr. Walker enjoyed passing along his love of golf to sons George and Andy, who remain avid golfers. After their sons began to leave for college, Jim took particular delight in his wife Betty’s burgeoning watercolor career as she became a regionally and nationally acclaimed artist.
Dr. Walker was an active member of Clinton’s Broad Street United Methodist Church, the Lions Club, and served on the board of the American Academy of Family Practice.
In September 2014, Dr. Walker was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Public Service degree by Presbyterian College, where he served as a team doctor at sporting events as well as an infirmary physician for 50 years.
Dr. Walker is survived by sons James, William (m. Kelly), George (m. Tonya) and Andrew (m. Elizabeth), as well as grandchildren Graham, Hannah, Ginny, Andrew, Margaret, Dawson, Elizabeth and James.
Services for Dr. Walker will be held in Clinton, SC at Broad Street United Methodist Church on Thursday, November 2 at one o’clock p.m. All whose lives were touched by Dr. Walker are welcome and encouraged to attend. A reception at the family’s home will follow.
Floral gifts may be delivered to Broad Street United Methodist Church, 310 North Broad Street, Clinton, SC 29325.
Memorials may be made to Hospice of Laurens County (1304 Springdale Dr, Clinton, SC 29325); Presbyterian Community (801 Musgrove Street, Clinton, SC 29325); or Broad Street United Methodist Church (310 N. Broad Street, Clinton, SC 29325).