Endowed scholarship honors donor’s passion for education and medicine
Before today’s medical school students were born, James E. Pridgen, M.D., joined a team of doctors and area leaders to advocate for the building of a medical school in San Antonio. He believed that the South Texas Medical Center, with its vast amount of land, was the perfect site.
The dream became a reality in 1968 when The University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio was completed and the new Bexar County Hospital became its teaching affiliate. Shortly after, Dr. Pridgen was recruited as a clinical professor of surgery at the university. In 1969, he was named chief of staff at Bexar County Hospital, which is now known as the University Health System’s University Hospital.
Dr. Pridgen, who died on Christmas Eve at the age of 95, will be remembered for his passion and commitment to enhancing the school’s national reputation as a leader in educating future physicians. His work created a foundation for the solid working partnership between the school and the teaching hospital that still exists today, said UT Health Science Center President William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP.
Dr. Pridgen was born in Cuero, Texas, to Dr. James and Ada Beth Pridgen. After graduating from Cuero High School, he attended Texas A&M University, where he played first-chair clarinet in the Aggie Band as a freshman. He later transferred to UT Austin and graduated in 1939. He attended Tulane Medical School in New Orleans and graduated with honors in 1943.
A surgical fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., was delayed after Dr. Pridgen was called to active duty as an Army combat medical officer during World War II. He was honorably discharged after achieving the rank of major and receiving a Bronze Star Medal with oak leaf clusters. In 1946, he married Betty Jo Rabb of Atlanta, Texas, and completed his fellowship at the Mayo Clinic. Five years later, they moved to San Antonio, where he started a private surgical practice. They had three children: Carol P. Storey, Gay Swanson and James Pridgen.
Dr. Pridgen became instrumental in helping develop the South Texas Medical Center and the Health Science Center. Today, nearly 700 medical residents and more than 400 third- and fourth-year medical students receive training each year through the Health Science Center and University Health System partnership.
“Daddy was an ‘old school’ doctor and believed with all his heart that education was the key to the success of the continually evolving field of medicine,” said Storey. To illustrate his passion for education and medicine, he established the James E. Pridgen, M.D. Endowed Presidential Scholarship in 2011.
In a partnership with Christ Healing Center, a San Antonio-based nonprofit organization, Dr. Pridgen and his family raised $100,000 to establish the scholarship that is awarded to medical students interested in pursuing a career in surgery. It honors the five doctors in the Pridgen family who have practiced medicine over several generations.
“He had a genuine passion for medicine and was truly one who constantly kept learning throughout his 95 years,” his daughter said. “To sustain this dedication and create a passion in another student was his ultimate goal. He was a noble gentleman of a bygone era.”
Watch an interview of Dr. Pridgen.