By Sheila Champlin
With 53 years on the UT Health Science Center’s Memphis campus, Dr. Hershel “Pat” Wall knows more UTHSC history than any extant public record. But unlike purely factual accounts, the story he tells brims with passion, emotion, and personal insight.
Unabashedly proud of being a UT alumnus—College of Medicine 1960—Wall is equally exuberant to introduce himself as a country boy from Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
“My first job was working on the family farm, but even as a boy, my ambition was to be a physician.”
After he graduated from Middle Tennessee State University, he moved to Memphis in pursuit of M.D. status. Little did Wall suspect that he would rise through the academic ranks to hold a range of important positions at the state’s flagship academic health science institution—among them chancellor, interim dean of the College of Medicine, and currently, special assistant to the UT president supporting fundraising, capital development, and alumni relations at UTHSC.
“I’m committed to expanding the culture of giving among Health Science Center alumni, asking more of them to make major investments in our institution,” Wall says. “Our organization is of vital importance to the future and well-being of the Memphis community, the region, and communities beyond our local boundaries.
“My last year of medical school I actually lived in and worked at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital as one of the ‘lab boys,’” he recalls. “I later returned as a resident and faculty member, walking the original halls of Le Bonheur and learning from great physicians including Drs. Jim Etteldorf, James Hughes, and Shelly Korones, my pediatric mentors, as well as Drs. Bobby Allen and Earl Wrenn, who were Boston trained and the first pediatric surgeons in the Midsouth. They inculcated in all of us what it meant to be competent, caring, and compassionate physicians.”
During residency, Wall decided to enlist in the army, at that time a conventional method for new physicians to hone their skills. He found himself stationed in France from 1963 to 1965, providing pediatric services for dependents of army personnel.
The adage that the military changes a man held true. For him, the change was permanent and pleasurable. The young doctor met and was smitten with Jean Harrington, a North Carolinian and recent graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who was continuing her French studies on the continent. They married in 1965, embarking on a life adventure that continues today with two married sons—David and Matthew—three granddaughters, and a grandson.
Returning to Memphis, Wall settled into his career on the faculty at UTHSC, earning promotions and expanded responsibilities as the years progressed. In 1979 he became a professor of pediatrics, subsequently serving as division chief of general pediatrics. In 1982, when he became associate dean for admissions and student affairs, Wall assumed a pivotal role for the College of Medicine. He chaired the admissions committee for 30 years, a role he says he will always cherish.
Wall has continued his commitment to teaching, giving what he wryly refers to as his “little talks” to medical students—lectures that can sometimes last several hours.
In November 2005 Wall was called upon to serve as interim dean for the College of Medicine in Memphis. He handled every aspect of the demanding job until April 2007, when he was tapped to fill the vacant chancellor’s post.
Such a solid record of administrative progress appears on the surface to be well planned, but not so, says Wall. “Jean, my bride of forty-five years, who has always encouraged me to accept additional administrative responsibilities, which I neither sought nor aspired to, deserves the greater credit. I will always be grateful to her and to my faculty and administrative colleagues who have been so supportive.”
Wall identifies his greatest achievement as his children and his favorite vacation spot as France, “where I met my wife.”
Concurrent with his work as an academician and clinician, he served in the Army Reserve for 35 years, retiring as a colonel in 1995. His service included the command of a 1,000-bed general hospital (the former 330th General Hospital).
“I was part of Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991, activated as a member of the 300th MASH unit in the Tennessee National Guard serving in Germany.”
In 2008, the UTHSC Legacy Society was named for him, a fitting tribute to acknowledge the rich history of his contributions and service. The society honors the distinguished alumni and special friends who make a commitment to UTHSC through planned gifts.
During a 45-plus-year career, Wall has been recognized for myriad contributions to medical education, his community, and clinical care. Plaques and statuettes adorn the walls and bookshelves of his homey office, attesting to all that he’s contributed. He was especially honored to be selected as the Tennessee Medical Association’s Outstanding Physician in 2010. The awards help him measure how well he’s living up to his favorite quote from Sir Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”