James Edward Pridgen, MD, age 95, of San Antonio, passed away at home on Christmas Eve 2013 in the presence of his loving and devoted family. He went by many names. To his children, he was Daddy or Dad. To his grandchildren he was Daddy Jim. To his hundreds of patients he was Dr. Pridgen and to his myriad of friends he was simply, Jim.
Jim was born in Cuero at the Burns Hospital to Dr. James Howard Pridgen and Ada Beth Harwood Pridgen. He graduated from Cuero High School and was Sultan in the 1938 Cuero Turkey Trot. He enrolled in Texas A&M University where he was first chair clarinet in the Aggie Band as a freshman. Reflecting on this accomplishment Jim felt this was his main claim to fame. After two years Jim transferred to the University of Texas, becoming a member of the SAE fraternity, and graduated in 1939. Progressing on to Tulane Medical School in New Orleans, Jim was president of Nu Sigma Nu fraternity and graduated with honors in 1943.
Dr. Pridgen had accepted a surgical fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., which had to be delayed because of military service as a combat medical officer with the Army in WWII. Dr. Pridgen was honorably discharged achieving the rank of Major, with a Bronze Star with Clusters. Upon his return, he married Betty Rabb of Atlanta, Texas, and fulfilled his obligations to the Mayo Clinic. During his five years there, he earned a Masters Degree in Surgery, and became a diplomat of the American Board of Surgery. In 1951 he moved his family to San Antonio, and started a private surgical practice.
One of Dr. Pridgen’s outstanding achievements was his vision for a hospital, medical school, and later a medical center in the Northwest part of San Antonio. He was certainly in on the ground floor of raising funds, building, and development of the Methodist Hospital of South Texas. Upon its completion he performed the first surgery in November of 1963. He was the first chief of surgery and was later chief of staff. The hospital became the impetus for the geographically important medical center it has become today. Dr. Pridgen was the last of the doctor pioneers to be alive who orchestrated the beginnings of the hospital. His efforts were vital in the development of the South Texas Medical Center, which now comprises 900 acres, 13 hospitals, and numerous medical offices. For many years, he served on the board of trustees of the San Antonio Medical Foundation which oversees the stewardship of the South Texas Medical Center.
Dr. Pridgen was also instrumental in starting the medical school now known as the University of Texas Health Science Center. This medical school became a reality in 1968. Later the University Teaching Hospital was built and Dr. Pridgen became the first chief of staff at this hospital, and was appointed clinical professor of surgery. Dr. Pridgen’s role gave the new school credibility and guaranteed a working relationship amongst the medical communities. The James E. Pridgen, MD Scholarship Trust was first endowed at the medical school as a joint effort between the Christ Healing Center of San Antonio and the Health Science Center. It honors the awarded student and acknowledges Dr. Pridgen’s role in helping to build a first rate medical school in the city.
Jim was active in various medical professional organizations. He served as President of Texas Surgical Society, International Medical Assembly, San Antonio Surgical Society, and the Mayo Clinic Alumni Society. He was a member of the prestigious Southern Surgical Society and Western Surgical Society, and he served as Governor of the American College of Surgeons South Texas Chapter.
Being a consultant for some 25 years at Wilford Hall Hospital and Brooke Army Medical Center, Dr. Pridgen received an Outstanding Civilian Consultant Award from both institutions. In 1994 Jim formally retired from surgery and for the next 15 years he was a consultant at the Veteran’s Administration Outpatient Clinic in San Antonio. When he completely retired he was 92 years of age.
Dr. Pridgen was more than just a pioneer doctor. His influence and hands on approach to practicing medicine will be felt in this city for years to come. He was also a man whose faith in Jesus Christ sustained him and led him throughout his life. He believed strongly in the power of prayer and in the precept, “Where the doctor leaves off, the Lord takes over.” He was a member of the Alamo Heights United Methodist Church for over 60 years. Serving in many capacities, he was President of the Church Board, a member of the Foundation Board, teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir and ushering until three months before his death.
A great lover of music he was interested in the symphony and opera, and particularly enjoyed the Happy Jazz Band on the San Antonio Riverwalk with family and friends. He played multiple instruments including the piano, guitar and of course the clarinet.
Jim served on the Alamo Council of the Boy Scouts for several years. Both of his grandsons, Kelly and Clint, admit Daddy Jim was very supportive and influential in their becoming Eagle Scouts.
Jim enjoyed people and loved to be around them. He was a member of several social organizations which reflected his style as one of the last true gentlemen. His membership in The Argyle, San Antonio Country Club, Texas Cavaliers, and the Conopus Club exhibits his genteel social spirit.
Jim’s greatest pride and joy were his children. He enjoyed vacationing with them over the years, especially in Port Aransas where family reunions were held. He cherished long walks with his daughters on the beach and riding four wheelers with his son at his Cuero ranch.
Jim Pridgen was preceded in death by his parents and his loving wife of 65 years, Betty Rabb Pridgen. He is survived by two daughters and their spouses, Elizabeth Gay and Steve Swanson of San Antonio, Carol and Gerry Storey of Dallas, and a son, James E. Pridgen Jr. of San Antonio. He is also survived by six grandchildren and their spouses, Kelly and Kara Gray of Houston, Bethany Gray of Galveston, Clint Storey of Kerrville, Clair Storey of Dallas, Erin and Erik Phelps of Hawaii, and Jennifer Pridgen of San Antonio; four great grandchildren, Dylan Gray, Owen and Summer Phelps and Alannah Pridgen.
We would like to thank his wonderful caregivers, Robert Redgrave, Fannie Angel, Mina Martinez, Jose Lopez and his Odyssey Hospice nurse, Sally Ledesma.
A memorial service will be held at Alamo Heights United Methodist Church at 1 p.m. Monday, Dec. 30. The church is on 825 E. Basse Road, San Antonio, TX.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Alamo Heights United Methodist Church, 825 E. Basse Road, San Antonio, TX, 78209, The James E. Pridgen, MD Scholarship Trust, University of Texas Health Science Center, 7703 Floyd Curl Dr, San Antonio, TX 78229 or the Christ Healing Center, 135 W. Olmos Dr., San Antonio, TX 78212.
Arrangements with Porter Loring Mortuary, 1101 McCullough Ave., San Antonio, TX 78212; 800-460-2704