Medical Alumni Awards Dinner honorees or their representatives are, from left, Dr. Robert Lewis, accepting for Dr. Julius Cruse Jr.; Dr. Suzanne Miller, accepting for herself and her husband Dr. Richard Miller; Dr. Sherry Martin; Dr. John Fleming Jr.; Dr. Tate Thigpen; and Dr. Mart McMullan. Not pictured is Dr. Ralph Vance Sr., who accepted for Dr. Peter Blake.
Medical Alumni Awards Dinner honorees or their representatives are, from left, Dr. Robert Lewis, accepting for Dr. Julius Cruse Jr.; Dr. Suzanne Miller, accepting for herself and her husband Dr. Richard Miller; Dr. Sherry Martin; Dr. John Fleming Jr.; Dr. Tate Thigpen; and Dr. Mart McMullan. Not pictured is Dr. Ralph Vance Sr., who accepted for Dr. Peter Blake.
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More leading lights brighten Medical Alumni Chapter’s Hall of Fame

Published on Thursday, August 29, 2019

By: Gary Pettus,


Dr. John C. Fleming Jr.


Dr. Sherry Martin


Dr. Thomas M. “Peter” Blake
Dr. Julius M. Cruse Jr.
Dr. Martin “Mart” McMullan
Dr. Richard C. Miller and Dr. Suzanne T. Miller
Dr. James T. “Tate” Thigpen

A former four-term congressman and an internationally known diabetes expert were celebrated as distinguished graduates of the School of Medicine last week during the University of Mississippi Medical Center Medical Alumni Awards Dinner.

Another six physicians who entered the ranks of the chapter’s Hall of Fame for their triumphs in medicine and science were also recognized during the August 22 observance in Jackson.

“Make no mistake about it, YOU are the School of Medicine,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, addressing those commended at the event, held at the Country Club of Jackson.

“Your career achievements make up the biggest part of our reputation for excellence, not just in Mississippi but also across the country,” said Woodward, a 1991 alumna. “It’s a good, hard-earned reputation and I’m proud to represent our school at state and national meetings.”

Making the awards presentations was orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Karen Hand of Gulfport, a 2006 medical school graduate and outgoing president of the Medical Alumni Chapter. She will be succeeded in the fall by president-elect Dr. Randy Richardson, an Oxford ophthalmologist and member of the medical school class of 1985.

Thursday night’s occasion was one of several 2019 Medical Class Reunion activities welcoming back the classes of 1969, 1979, 1989, 1994, 1999 and 2009.

The UMMC Medical Alumni Chapter has named a Distinguished Alumnus since 2010; two years later, the first Hall of Fame recipients were acclaimed. As of this year, around 50 physicians have been inducted into the Hall of Fame or declared a Distinguished Alumnus, or both.

“The scope of their achievements is absolutely breathtaking,” Woodward said of this year’s guests of honor.


Dr. John Fleming Jr. is the 2019 Distinguished Medical Alumnus.
Dr. John Fleming Jr. is the 2019 Distinguished Medical Alumnus.

Dr. John C. Fleming Jr. of Minden, Louisiana, who was sworn in this year as the nation’s Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, accepted the 2019 Distinguished Alumnus Award.

“This is the first trophy I’ve won since a participation award in Little League,” said Fleming, a 1976 School of Medicine graduate.

The Meridian native praised his “first-class medical school education” at UMMC.

“I decided I wanted to be a doctor at age 11,” he said. “There is no greater honor or calling in life than to be a physician.”

Fleming was introduced by Dr. Melissa Love, a family medicine physician in Louisiana and a 2006 medical school graduate.

For eight years, until 2017, Fleming was the representative of Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District, serving on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.

Until his current role in helping lead the federal economic development agenda, Fleming was deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A military veteran, Fleming opened his family medicine practice in Minden while also starting several companies employing more than 600 people today.

He was Louisiana’s Family Doctor of the Year in 2007, a year after he published a parents’ guidebook on bringing up drug-free children.


Dr. Sherry Martin receives the 2019 Distinguished Alumna Award.
Dr. Sherry Martin receives the 2019 Distinguished Alumna Award.

Dr. Sherry Martin of Tupelo, vice president of diabetes global medical affairs at Eli Lilly and Company, is the recipient of the Distinguished Alumna Award.

The 1982 medical school alumna was introduced by Dr. Bruce Longest of Bruce, a 1986 alumnus and former chapter president.

An endocrinologist, Martin said that because of her education at the Medical Center, “never has anyone questioned my clinical skill.”

Working with her patients has been “the joy of my life," she said.

Martin won the 2018 Lilly Research Labs Progress Through Research Award for her work, which included leading a team studying a new type 2 diabetes treatment – now known as Trulicity. Her contributions to the advancement of diabetes research and education are recognized across the globe.

In her home state, Martin opened the first endocrinology clinic in north Mississippi, based in Tupelo. The North Mississippi Diabetes Treatment Center, which she started in partnership with North Mississippi Medical Center, operates today as a group of centers for diabetes management.


Portrait of Dr. Peter Blake

Dr. Thomas M. “Peter” Blake came to work for the Medical Center the year it opened, in 1955, when he set up the heart catheterization lab.

His influence extends to today’s future physicians and to generations who came before them: He organized a course in physical diagnosis that is now the “Introduction to Clinical Medicine” – the final class second-year medical students complete before beginning their clinical years.

From Blake, medical students “learned to take a history, do a physical, take a review of systems … learned how to practice medicine,” said Dr. Ralph B. Vance Sr., UMMC professor emeritus and a member of the medical school class of 1971, who spoke on behalf of his late mentor and friend.

In 1988, Blake received the Laureate Award from the Mississippi chapter of the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

Trained in cardiovascular research at Vanderbilt University, he was the Medical Center’s authority on electrocardiography.

Although he officially retired in 1990, Blake still put in half-days at UMMC to accommodate physicians who turned to him for his EKG expertise.

He was also the Medical Center’s unofficial historian, documenting through photographs the life of the institution he served for decades before his death in 2002.


Dr. Julius M. Cruse Jr., a universally recognized authority on immunology, was the founding editor-in-chief of three international medical/scientific journals and the author or editor of more than 50 scientific books.

Among his best-known works are the Illustrated Dictionary of Immunology and the Atlas of Immunology.

At the Medical Center, he served as Guyton Distinguished Professor of Pathology, Medicine and Microbiology and as Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine. He was the first professor of immunology and the first distinguished professor of the history of medicine at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

For his world-renowned abilities, Cruse was accepted as a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and of the Royal Society of Health and the Royal Society of Medicine in the United Kingdom.

“In spite of his many awards, he was kind and gracious, genteel and humble,” said Dr. Helen R. Turner, UMMC associate vice chancellor emeritus, a 1979 School of Medicine graduate and a 2018 Hall of Fame inductee.

Dr. Robert Lewis, a retired professor of pathology who earned his Ph.D. in pathology/immunology at UMMC, accepted the Hall of Fame award on behalf of Cruse, who died in August 2018.

Lewis, who worked with Cruse for more than 40 years, described him as a “Renaissance educator,” noting his love of history, science, literature, book-collecting and more.

“He was my teacher, mentor and my friend,” Lewis said. “I learned from this man every single day. I’m a much better person today for having known him.”

Portrait of Dr. Martin “Mart” McMullan

Dr. Martin “Mart” McMullan, a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon, had retired from private practice when he joined the UMMC faculty in 2005 as a professor emeritus of surgery and senior advisor to the vice chancellor for health affairs.

McMullan, a 1966 medical school graduate who completed his surgery residency under Medical Center icon Dr. James Hardy, was a key figure in bolstering the Medical Center’s heart surgery program and cardiovascular services; he was instrumental in re-establishing the Batson Children’s Hospital congenital heart surgery program.

“You are a person who went into medicine for all the right reasons,” said Dr. James Keeton, who summarized McMullan’s career.

Keeton, former vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, the 2014 Distinguished Medical Alumnus and a 2018 Hall of Fame honoree, has known McMullan since 1962.

At one time, McMullan joined Keeton and Woodward on a tour of the state in an effort to boost the Medical Center’s image as a place of academic excellence, Keeton said.

McMullan’s son-in-law, Kelley Williams Jr. of Jackson, spoke on his behalf, noting how several other family members had pursued a medical education at the Medical Center.

“As much as Mart has meant to UMMC, UMMC has meant more to Mart and the family,” Williams said.

Portrait of Dr. Richard C. Miller and Dr. Suzanne Miller
Dr. Richard and Dr. Suzanne Miller

Dr. Richard C. Miller and Dr. Suzanne Miller, a pioneering husband-and-wife team who furthered health care for Mississippi’s children, were introduced by Dr. Mary Taylor, Suzan B. Thames Chair of Pediatrics and professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UMMC.

For most of Richard Miller’s career, he was the only pediatric surgeon in the state, said Taylor, a member of the 1991 School of Medicine class.

Suzanne Miller, recruited to Batson Children’s Hospital in 1969, was the first pediatric pulmonologist to serve Mississippi.

“We’re deeply indebted to the Millers for the legacy they’ve left,” Taylor said.

It was at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland that Richard Miller, then a surgery resident, and Suzanne Thorne, a fellow house officer, met.

After a few years of marriage, they moved to Mississippi to begin work at University Hospital. For 43 years, Richard Miller held many administrative positions while also treating children and training physicians. He was interim chair of the Department of Anesthesiology and the Department of Surgery; associate dean for clinical affairs; and medical director of the University Hospital.

He was the longtime director of the Cystic Fibrosis Center, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science from Millsaps College in 2011.

In 2017, the Richard C. Miller, M.D. Pediatric Surgery Chair was established at UMMC, the year before he died, in August 2018.

In 1973, when the Medical Center became a designated Cystic Fibrosis Center, Suzanne Miller was named its director.

After working alongside her husband for years, she retired in 1999, but returned to care for cystic fibrosis patients in UMMC’s Adult Pulmonology Department three years later.

In 2008, she joined the Pediatric Cystic Fibrosis Center until her retirement from both departments in 2012.

“Both of us enjoyed our patient care so much,” Suzanne Miller said. “I loved my CF patients and enjoy seeing some of them today … with a baby in their arms.”

Portrait of Dr. James T. “Tate” Thigpen

Dr. James T. “Tate” Thigpen, professor emeritus of medicine at UMMC since 2017, has made a lasting impact on the treatment of cancer in Mississippi.

The Picayune native helped expand UMMC’s cancer program and began, at age 32, deciding which research studies would be funded as head of the Protocol Committee in the Gynecologic Oncology Group.

A 1969 graduate of the School of Medicine, he served on the Department of Medicine faculty since 1973 and directed the Division of Oncology for 35 years before leading the Division of Hematology and Oncology. He has made enduring contributions to gynecologic cancer research.

For his success in advancing cancer patient care, he received in 2017 the Distinguished Leadership Award from the Society of Gynecologic Oncology.

“He is the reason I’m doing what I do today,” said one of his five sons, Dr. Samuel Calvin Thigpen, who introduced his father.

“He loves to play games. He has taught us not only how to compete, but also how to compete in the right way,” said Calvin Thigpen, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine, and a 2005 School of Medicine graduate.

For his part, Tate Thigpen said “the greatest thing that happened to me” was being introduced to his future wife, Louisa Kessler. They also have nine grandchildren.

Throughout his remarks, Thigpen stuck to the accomplishments of his colleagues and others he worked with, concluding with: “I hope you can see, from what I’ve said, it’s not me; it’s a whole group of people working together to make something happen.”