Remembering the Guytons
Last Saturday night I had the privilege of offering remarks at an event hosted by the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy. That distinguished group had assembled with guests to present their annual Legacy Award honoring people affiliated with the University of Mississippi for their lifetime contributions in leadership, mentoring and philanthropy.
For the first time, the OMWC hosted the event in Jackson, recognizing the late Dr. Arthur C. and Ruth Guyton with the 2019 Legacy Award. It was a lovely evening, made even more special by the presence of four of the Guyton’s 10 children, who accepted the honor on their parents’ behalf. We’re so grateful to the OMWC for honoring the Guytons and for doing it here in Jackson.
I realize that many people who work for UMMC today may not be that familiar with the Guytons and how important they are in the story of the Medical Center and, indeed, the world of medical science. Even though Arthur and Ruth were still routinely part of life at UMMC through the millennium, a tragic car accident in 2003 took them from us. UMMC has grown so much since then, adding thousands of new employees and spreading to different parts of the state – literally from Gulfport to Grenada – that the Legacy Award presents a good opportunity to revisit what the Guytons mean to us.
There have been many wonderful and accomplished faculty at UMMC since its founding as the state’s only academic medical center in Jackson in 1955. Many would place Arthur C. Guyton at the top of that list. It would take a month’s worth of VC Notes to relate his many national and international honors and achievements in science, most notably as the author of the most popular medical physiology textbook of all time. But I can summarize it in one word: genius. He had uncanny insight into human physiology, computational science, integrated systems – and just about everything else. He was far ahead of his time, and some of his theories are still being validated today as new technologies become available.
I think it’s also fair to say – and Dr. Guyton would be the first to say it – that he would not have enjoyed nearly as much career success, and certainly not as much happiness, without the lifetime of loving support he received from the strong center of the family, Ruth Guyton. She was brilliant in her own right and also cultured, refined and principled. They were a perfect match, and the strength of their bond is perhaps most evident in the accomplishments of their 10 children, who have all gone on to careers as physicians, successful not just in their professional careers but as well-rounded, productive citizens of our society.
Attending last Saturday’s event after a tour of the Medical Center earlier in the day were Dr. David Guyton, an ophthalmologist at Johns Hopkins; Dr. Jean Guyton Gispen, a rheumatologist and internist in Oxford; Dr. Jimmy Guyton, an orthopaedic surgeon in Memphis; and Dr. Tom Guyton, an anesthesiologist in Memphis.
Their comments, filled with humor and tenderness toward their parents and siblings, were the highlight of the evening. They referred to themselves by their birth order: David, No. 1; Jeannie, No. 6; Jimmy, No. 8; and Tom, No. 9. David, now living in Baltimore, mentioned that it was “so nice to be back where people speak right.”
I was particularly struck by Tom’s comments about Ruth’s role in the family: “My mom’s unconditional love and support was the glue that held the family together,” he said. “My parents became a team. My father taught, researched, lectured. My mother established a personal connection with the wives, the husbands, the children.” In a real sense, it seems, Ruth made “Arthur Guyton the legend” possible.
You can learn more about what life was like “growing up Guyton” from the article published about the family last spring in our medical alumni magazine. Also, I recommend this video tribute to Arthur and Ruth Guyton developed by our media production team in Institutional Advancement that was shown at the event.
In honoring the legacy of the Guytons, it’s only fitting to recognize how important they were in the development of the research enterprise at UMMC. The international reputation that Arthur helped build in the basic sciences continues through his collaborators and mentees, notably Dr. John Hall, Dr. Joey Granger, Dr. Robert Hester and Dr. Richard Summers. More recently, we’ve laid the groundwork for sustained growth in translational and clinical research, most notably in our collaboration with the Mayo Clinic.
Just as it’s hard to imagine Arthur Guyton in the absence of Ruth, it’s also hard to imagine the UMMC of today without the seminal contributions of its most acclaimed faculty member. To paraphrase a famous quotation, we are all standing “on the shoulders of giants” as we make our way toward tomorrow and A Healthier Mississippi.