A hero is defined as a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character. A person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities or personal qualities.
If you know Henry Hawthorne, you know a hero.
For almost 40 years, Hawthorne has improved the quality of life for children across the region. He has also mentored dozens upon dozens of physicians so that future generations would receive the sort of care that he had so provided.
Judges in this year’s Health Care Heroes Awards chose Hawthorne, a former pediatrician, as recipient for the Lifetime Achievement award. He, along with the other category finalists and winners, will be honored at an awards event Nov. 12.
“The gift of teaching other physicians is a gift that is held at higher level by his peers,” wrote physician James McCabe in an award nomination letter for Hawthorne. “He shared his knowledge and bedside skills with many physicians. He was a mentor, coach, advocate, friend and teacher for many physicians. This had a rippling impact for the greater good of our medical community.”
Although Hawthorne retired from Wilmington Health in 2011, his commitment to children has continued.
“I retired from active practice at 72,” Hawthorne recently said, as he gazed out over Hewletts Creek from his back porch. “Then someone called and asked me about doing some consulting work with the state of North Carolina and Community Care of Lower Cape Fear, so I failed retirement and went back to work for a couple of days a week.”
A couple of days a week translated into becoming the associate medical director of Community Care.
“The most exciting thing about it is these are really smart young people I work with – really caring young people,” he said. “It’s been a real rewarding experience.”
Hawthorne, who was born and raised in West Virginia, realized at a young age that medicine was in his future.
“I knew I wanted to practice medicine in high school. I was very inﬂuenced by my uncle, who was an internist in Raleigh, North Carolina,” Hawthorne recalled. “At first I thought I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon because I really love to use my hands, build things and make things. When I got to medical school I really liked pediatrics and the diagnosis rather than doing repair work.”
Hawthorne received his bachelor’s degree from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. He graduated from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, where he earned his medical degree.
He completed his residency at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis.
Hawthorne’s pediatric specialty clicked into high gear with his U.S. Army service as chief of pediatrics at the 279th Station Hospital in Berlin, where he was stationed from 1970 through 1973.
“[I] love children and love dealing with anxious mothers and daddies. I think love of children is the most important thing,” he explained with a smile. “I can tell you lots of people wonder how you can do it, but I loved every minute that I practiced. I mean it was so much fun. I feel sorry for someone who doesn’t like what they are doing. I loved what I did.”
Today Hawthorne and his wife, Beth, who have five grown kids and eight grandchildren, live quietly along a creek in Wilmington. The garage has a couple of British sports cars that Henry Hawthorne is restoring. The semi-retired physician loves being outside and loves to fish. He was preparing for a fishing tournament up on Cape Hatteras recently when it was called off because of Hurricane Matthew.
“I used to love going offshore. Now I love inshore fishing,” he said. “My favorite fishing now is ﬂounder, speckled trout and red drum.”
He enjoys spending time at home too, with his wife of 37 years.
“The most important thing I can tell you is the support I have from my wife. Many times there were activities the children had to do, and I would have to go to the hospital and miss them,” he said. “The phone would ring, and I would have to go to the emergency room or back to the hospital. So I think a lot of time wives don’t get as much credit as they should – because she’s the one that looked after five kids and me as well. She means so much to me in my life.”
In addition to his local efforts, Henry Hawthorne also extends his acts of kindness through his volunteer work in a special clinic in Leogane, Haiti. During those visits, he reaches a very poor community that, without his help, would receive no medical attention.
“I have gone to Haiti quite a few times. I’ve seen many patients over there,” he said. “People say, ‘Well, you go over there, and you don’t get paid.’ Well, I get paid in things you can’t really put a dollar to.”
Here are excerpts from some of the nominations submitted about Henry Hawthorne on why he deserves the Lifetime Achievement award for his impact on the local health care community.
“I had the good fortune of practicing general pediatric medicine at the Children’s Clinic in Wilmington with Henry for 35 years. There never was a kinder, more attentive and involved practitioner than he. He was always available to assist in the care of his patients, serve the hospital in multiple roles, participate in the county and state medical societies, involve himself and lead in many community activities and continue to serve the needs of children for several years after his retirement from clinical practice. His efforts in guaranteeing the well-being of children in our community and across the state have been recognized in many ways in the past.”
-Gordon Coleman, Wilmington Health
“I have known Dr. Hawthorne for the past 27 years as a colleague and a mentor. Dr. Hawthorne has devoted his life to the children of southeastern North Carolina as a practicing pediatrician for 38 years and later working as a pediatric consultant for Community Care of North Carolina. Recently he served on the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Foundation and was recognized by having a wing of the Betty H. Cameron Women’s and Children’s Hospital named for him. I can think of no more deserving individual than Henry Hawthorne to receive this award. Southeastern North Carolina has benefitted from Dr. Hawthorne’s numerous contributions to the area.”
-Janelle Rhyne, past president of the New Hanover-Pender County Medical Society
“This physician impacted the health and care of children in our community beyond words. From 1973-2011, he was providing the active practice of pediatrics that changed the quality and life expectancy of so many children. The medical community was enhanced because of his ability to teach residents in the Family Practice program as a preceptor. The greatest gift that a physician can do in medicine is to provide the best possible care for his or her patients. He demonstrated this every day that he practiced.
- James McCabe, partner of Southeastern Nephrology Associates
“I have known Henry since arriving in Wilmington 36 years ago. I was a fresh-out-of-training obstetrician, and he was already a young, but well-respected pediatrician. I can recall many a night during the wee hours of the morning when we co-waited for the birth of a baby in a problematic pregnancy. He was always the picture of calm, caring, competent and confident kindness. He was truly a hero as a physician. Not only has he been a hero by his practice of medicine. He also is a hero as one of the guiding leaders of the medical community. He has helped shape the delivery of high quality medical care in southeastern North Carolina, especially to underserved children. He has done this by his kind and empathetic leadership on numerous hospital, medical and governmental boards. The high quality of medical care which we enjoy in our community has been shaped by medical heroes like Henry Hawthorne.”
-R. Henry Temple, president of the New Hanover-Pender County Medical Society