At the end of 2015, Dr. Herman A. Godwin, Jr., 78, retired from his position as Chief Medical Officer at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS). Although he looked forward to “taking a break” after his 52-year medical career, Godwin says that his work at ARHS has been exceedingly fulfilling.
Author’s Note: In an effort to recognize his accomplishments and glean wisdom from his life experience, I asked if he would be willing to humor a young healthcare professional with an interview. After he agreed, I prepared a list of questions, grabbed my trusty voice recorder and knocked with a humble spirit on his office door. Located deep in the heart of Watauga Medical Center, his door opened a few moments later revealing a cozy room stacked full of books and inviting chairs. A window allowed in enough natural light to illuminate the smiling doctor who ushered me in with a warm handshake and a heartfelt salutation. Before I could ask my first question, he said, “I want you to know that I have been looking forward to our time together. Although I am aware that you are here to interview me, I am equally as eager to learn more about you.”
At that point, I knew that what I had previously heard about Dr. Herman Godwin was true. The compassionate doctor welcomed me into his office like a new patient, willing to give unconditionally of his time, wisdom and heart.
A Legacy in the Making
“I believe having role models throughout life is very important,” said Godwin. “I was fortunate as an adolescent to have several, including my parents. Perhaps no one inspired me more than our local family doctor. He was the person who encouraged me to become a physician.”
After graduating from high school where he was valedictorian, Godwin went on to earn the prestigious Morehead Scholarship at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He was subsequently chosen as a Reynolds Scholar at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem from which he graduated in 1963. He then completed his residency training on the Harvard Service, at Boston City Hospital where he was named the Francis Weld Peabody Fellow in Medicine. Following time at the National Institutes of Health carrying out research on leukemias and lymphomas, he joined the Harvard Medical School faculty in 1967 where he taught until 1972. Godwin then taught medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston from 1972 until 1975.
In 1975, Godwin moved to Charlotte where he initially practiced hematology and oncology. He then led the founding of the Blumenthal Cancer Center (now known as The Levine Cancer Institute at Carolinas Medical Center) serving as its Medical Director. In addition to working as both a clinician and administrator, Godwin continued to teach medicine in Charlotte as a Clinical Professor through the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
In 1992, Godwin received a call from Richard Sparks, then president of Watauga Medical Center in Boone. Sparks explained that he was seeking a medical oncologist who would be willing to see patients at the newly established Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center. Godwin agreed to begin traveling to Boone once a week to care for patients. He still remembers seeing his first four patients on January 14, 1993.
“It did not take long for Reneé and me to become comfortable in the High Country,” said Godwin. “From the beginning, I believed in Richard’s vision for a quality healthcare system and what he was attempting to accomplish for the people who live in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina.”
In 1999, after working in Charlotte for 24 years, Godwin agreed to become a full-time resident in Boone and the medical director for Watauga Medical Center. During his 19-year career in Boone, he has seen hundreds of patients and has been involved in numerous healthcare-related projects and initiatives including the expansions of the Cancer Center and the adding of several new service lines. His three areas of principal emphasis have been medical staff relations, quality of patient care and continuing medical education.
His work is not finished
“Over the years, I have witnessed many changes in healthcare,” said Godwin. “A good example is the recent healthcare reform, which has resulted in our thinking more strategically about the quality, cost, and outcomes related to healthcare delivery.”
This realization, combined with a recent community needs assessment, suggested that it would be important for the region to replace the existing Blowing Rock Rehabilitation and Davant Extended Care Center, formerly Blowing Rock Hospital, with a modern post-acute care center in Blowing Rock.
In order to encourage support for the new facility in Blowing Rock, Godwin has worked with the Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation to raise awareness and support of its $11.5 million capital campaign. His belief in the project has inspired others to contribute. One of Godwin’s former patients, Diane Foley and her husband Dennis, have generously donated $3.75 million. The facility will be named The Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge recognizing their generous contribution.
The new 112-bed post-acute care center, which is scheduled to open next summer, will be located on a 68-acre tract of land alongside US 321 in Blowing Rock. The facility will enhance the region’s access to cost-saving short and long-term post-acute care medical services. It will provide rehabilitation care, skilled nursing, as well as memory support and palliative care, there will also be an on-site primary care clinic and pharmacy.
“At my age, most people have retired,” said Godwin with a smile. “I feel extremely privileged to be involved as a contributor to such an important project. Furthermore, it will be gratifying to see the facility completed and operational. It should serve as a model for the planning and construction of similar facilities elsewhere.”
A heartfelt farewell
When asked what has motivated him in his life, Godwin answered with a question of his own, “Are you familiar with the poem No Man is an Island by John Donne?” He reached for his briefcase and retrieved from it a well-worn copy of the 15th century poem. “From time to time, I read this poem to remind myself why I entered medicine. The poem acknowledges that ‘no man is an island entire of itself’ but rather every man is a piece of something larger. To me, it points out the finite aspects of life, that we are dependent upon each other, and that it is our duty to contribute to the welfare of our fellowman. Otherwise, as the poem states, ‘any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”’
“Medicine has afforded me the extraordinary good fortune to be involved in and with mankind,” said Godwin. “I could not be more grateful for the opportunity.”
“He loves people and helping people,” said Richard Sparks, President and CEO of ARHS. Sparks calls Godwin, “a special individual that may pass your way once in a lifetime.” Godwin is looking forward to spending more time with Renée and being with his family. Because, as he says, that is what fortunate 78 year-olds get to do.