Obituary: Wilmer Jesse Coggins, M.D.Sep 12th, 2012 | By Submitted | Category: Obituaries
Wilmer Jesse Coggins Jr., age 87, of Tuscaloosa, died September 9, 2012, at Hospice of West Alabama in Tuscaloosa. A private memorial service will be held at his home in Tuscaloosa.
Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Deborah Reed Coggins, M.D. of Tuscaloosa; his daughters Pamela Minor (Gill),of Wilmington, North Carolina, Deborah Clark (Stephen, deceased), also of Wilmington, and Audrey Hyson (Chris) , of Lake Placid, New York; his sons Wilmer Jesse Coggins III (Julia), of North Bend, Oregon, and Christopher Reed Coggins (Tanya Kalischer), of Lenox, Massachusetts; and eight grandchildren, Jesse Minor (Rebecca), Melissa Minor Peters (David Torrey Peters), Peter Hyson, Rose Hyson, Michael Clark, Catherine Clark, Aaron Kalischer-Coggins, and Noah Kalischer-Coggins.
Dr. Coggins was born February 20, 1925, in Madison, Florida to Audrey Walker Coggins and Wilmer Jesse Coggins. After graduating from Georgia Military Academy in College Park, he entered Duke University as a pre-medical student in 1942. His undergraduate education was interrupted by military service in World War II. As a 2nd Lieutenant, he was the commander of a Medical Collecting Company in Hakodate, near Sapporo Japan, and then joined the 11th Airborne Division in Sapporo. After a year of active service, during which time he was trained as a paratrooper and elevated to the rank of First Lieutenant, he was released from active duty to return to Duke and to enter medical school. After receiving his medical degree, in 1951, he and his wife served their internships at Georgetown University Medical Center. His residency in internal medicine was interrupted when he contracted tuberculosis, and he required 18 months of rest. Upon completing his internship, Dr. Coggins and his wife returned to Florida to begin a private practice, first in Boca Grande (1954-1955), and then in his home town of Madison (1956-1960). The family’s years in Madison are chronicled in a memoir, The Coggins Affair (2005). The book is a testament to his wife’s courage following her dismissal from her position as Health Officer for three north Florida counties for holding a lunch meeting with an African American nurse who was helping lead a program to promote hygienic midwifery in the region. The Coggins family left Madison in 1960, moving to Gainesville, where Dr. Coggins completed his residency in Internal Medicine in 1962.
Joining the faculty of the University of Florida College of Medicine, Dr. Coggins became Director of the General Medical Clinic, and later the Director of the University Health Service, which provided inpatient and outpatient service to the rapidly expanding student body. National concern about marijuana use among college students led Dr. Coggins and faculty colleagues to a multidisciplinary study of long-term heavy users of marijuana in Costa Rica focusing on medical and psychosocial variables, research which was documented in the book Cannabis in Costa Rica (1976). After a sabbatical year at the University of Maryland, Dr. Coggins returned to the University of Florida to join a medical school project in rural health care that shifted the location of outpatient training for medical students to a network of rural clinics in a three-county area where no other acute care facilities were available. Supervision was provided by resident physicians and medical school faculty.
In 1980, Dr. Coggins became the Dean of the College of Community Health Sciences and Associate Dean of the Tuscaloosa Program, at the University of Alabama School of Medicine. Drawn to the program because of its commitment to the provision of health care to traditionally under-served rural areas, he helped build an excellent general clinical experience for medical students and a large Family Residency Program. Student enrollment in the Tuscaloosa Program increased during his tenure, while graduates of the program chose residencies in primary care specialties at rates above the national average, and in family medicine at twice the national average. After retiring from the deanship in 1991, Dr Coggins won outside funding to develop a modified curriculum for medical students in Problem Based Learning and the use of the Objective Structured Clinical Evaluation (OSCE). These techniques are now in use on the main campus of the University of Alabama Medical School, in Birmingham, as well as in the Tuscaloosa and Huntsville campuses.
Dr. Coggins was active in the Florida Medical Association, chairing committees on Student Health, Rural Health, and Public Health. He was awarded membership in Florida Blue Key, and honorary society for students, alumni, and faculty of the University of Florida. He was President of the American College Health Association (1972-73) and won the organization’s Ruth Boynton Award for distinguished service. He has been a consultant to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Health Resources and Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services. He was also designated a Laureate of the American College of Physicians, Alabama Chapter, and he served as the President of the Lister Hill Society, the support group for the College of Community Health Sciences. He was the editor and co-author of the first history of the College, A Special Kind of Doctor, which was published in 2005. In recent years, he founded and directed The Coggins Group, an organization devoted to presentations and discussions on contemporary matters of political and social concern. To the end of his life he remained a staunch advocate of socialized health care.
Known by his friends as Will or Bill and by much of his family as Daddy or Grandaddy, Dr. Coggins will also be remembered for his love of the outdoors, especially his passion for natural history, boating, bird watching, photography, and literature. He designed and built a cabin on the banks of the Suwannee River in Florida, where his family and an untold number of visitors and friends spent many a weekend in the 1960s and 1970s. In later years he and his wife and family often explored the waterways in and around the Homosassa River. To spend the day in a boat with Grandaddy was to get away from the humdrum world and to enter one that was wild and new. We are proud to have lived with a man who served his community and the world with such passion, who understood the times in which he lived and worked accordingly, and who always found time to have a lot of fun with his family.
In lieu of flowers or other gifts to the family, please make donations to Hospice of West Alabama – 3851 Loop Road, Tuscaloosa, AL 35404; (205) 523-0101.