A legacy of patience and humility: Endowed chair named for Rodney and Sara Meeks
Published on Monday, May 8, 2023
By: Gary Pettus, email@example.com
Photos By: Jay Ferchaud/ UMMC Communications
It was the second-best day of his life.
Or, at least one of the best, said Dr. G. Rodney Meeks. “The best was marrying my wife.”
For 53 years, the names of Dr. Rodney Meeks and Dr. Sara McDavid Meeks have been linked in marriage; now, because of the second-or-so best day of his life – last Thursday -- they became linked again for all time when the couple received one the highest honors obtainable in academic medicine.
The Drs. G. Rodney and Sara M. Meeks Endowed Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology, announced during a celebration in Jackson, became the 27th fully endowed chair at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
As Dr. J. Martin Tucker, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at UMMC said in his proclamation, “Endowments, when managed properly, can live forever.”
Certainly, the Meeks name will endure. Rodney Meeks, professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology at UMMC, inscribed his name in UMMC’s history book thanks to a 35-year career of achievement at the Medical Center, not counting his years as a medical student – he graduated in 1974.
But those who highlighted his accomplishments last week gave equal time to his triumphs as a person of patience and humility – a quality he confirmed after briefly summing up his career: “I don’t have anything else to say about myself,” he said, “except I wear whitey tighties.”
If he was modest, the size of the crowd was not: Around 200 attended the celebration at the Country Club of Jackson.
“Wow, look at all these faces. It’s a testament to the greatness of the person we’re honoring tonight,” said Dr. Jermaine Gray, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UMMC, and one of Rodney Meeks’ former students.
To Gray, Meeks has been a “teacher, surgeon, mentor, gentleman, legacy.” He praised Meeks’ “unrelenting outward show of patience … even for our errors.”
Quoting his grandmother, Gray spoke directly to Meeks, “It’s important to give a person flowers while they’re still around. … I hope this bouquet of flowers you’re smelling overwhelm your senses.”
Bouquets have been coming Meeks’ way for years. In 2020, the Mississippi Section of the American College (now “Congress”) of Obstetricians and Gynecologists named him a Mississippi Legend in OB-GYN. Twelve years before that, Meeks, who specialized in pelvic-floor reconstruction, earned a Distinguished Surgeon of the Year accolade from the Society of Gynecological Surgeons.
“His legacy remains, both for the patients he cared for … as well as for the unknown numbers of those he educated,” said Dr. Alan Jones, professor of emergency medicine and associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs. “He’s had a massive impact on OB-GYN.”
From the ACOG, Meeks received the Continuing Professional Development Award and, from the American Medical Association, the Physician’s Recognition Award.
The Tulsa, Oklahoma, native moved to Jackson in 1958, but eventually left. After his residency, in 1978, he joined the Medical Center faculty. Over time, he became director of the Division of Gynecology and the Winfred L. Wiser Chair of Gynecologic Surgery, named for his own mentor. His tenure produced a roughly equal number of trained residents and scientific publications: more than 150 of each.
One of his former medical students, Dr. Paul Moore, was “supposed to be a radiologist,” and then he met Meeks; the surgeon taught him how to scrub up, do skin incisions, closures and more, long before Moore entered his residency.
“I was hooked,” Moore said. “I could not get that experience out of my head, working with Dr. Meeks.” Moore is now associate professor of OB-GYN at UMMC.
Dr. Kim Sessums, a 1984 School of Medicine graduate who completed his last two years as an OB-GYN resident at UMMC, drove from his home in Brookhaven to shake his mentor’s hand.
“Rodney inspired us, not only to practice good medicine, but he also convinced me to be a teacher,” Sessums said, following the ceremony. “Because, with every patient, you are a teacher.”
Sessums is one of the 292 OB-GYN residents who have been trained at the Medical Center so far, with another five set to graduate in June, said Dr. Elizabeth Lutz, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and residency program director for the department.
“Residents are the lifeblood of our profession,” Meeks said, as he, in turn, paid tribute to their work and to the department that embraced him.
Among those 292 is Dr. Darden North, a Jackson-area OB-GYN who was also on hand to support his friend. “It’s like a homecoming tonight,” North said prior to the ceremony.
“This is such a well-deserved honor for him. He was always such a good surgeon and teacher,” said North, a 1982 School of Medicine graduate. “People who can make you feel comfortable being around them make really good teachers.
“With the students, he was always patient and kind.”
Regarding her husband’s forbearance, Sara Meeks, a retired pediatrician, drew one of the night’s biggest laughs when she said, “It’s interesting to hear people talk about Rodney’s patience. I think he probably used up all his patience at the hospital.”
The Meeks have three children, and all were present for their parents’ great night: son Patrick Meeks and daughters, Dr. Ellen Meeks, a physical therapist at UMMC; and Dr. Shannon Meeks, a pediatrician in Atlanta.
For their support, Rodney Meeks publicly thanked his immediate family, as well as his family at the Medical Center.
“I’m so proud to be part of this department,” he said. “A Marine is always a Marine; I’m always an OB-GYN.”