M. Therese Southgate, JAMA Physician-Editor Who Connected Art, Medicine, and Life, Dies at 85

M. Therese Southgate, MD (Image: Norris McNamara)

M. Therese Southgate, MD (Image: Norris McNamara)

Marie Therese Southgate, MD, a senior editor at JAMA for nearly 5 decades who was widely admired for her essays about the fine art on the covers of the journal, died at her home in Chicago on November 22 after a short illness. She was 85.

Dr Southgate was born in Detroit, Michigan, on April 27, 1928; the family moved to Chicago in the 1930s. She attended the College (now University) of St Francis in Joliet, Illinois, graduating with a degree in chemistry in 1948. She earned her MD degree from Marquette University School of Medicine (now the Medical College of Wisconsin) in 1960, one of only 3 women in her graduating class. She completed her rotating internship at St Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco in 1961.

Dr Southgate accepted the position of senior editor at JAMA, headquartered in Chicago, in 1962, the first woman to hold that position. Two years later, the editors of JAMA made the bold and unprecedented decision to feature a work of fine art on the journal’s cover. In 1974, Dr Southgate was promoted to deputy editor, the second-highest position at the journal. That same year, she began to select all of the works of fine art as well as to write an eloquent accompanying essay. “The Cover” became a hugely popular and much-admired weekly feature until the journal was redesigned in 2013. Although she had no formal art education, she had a keen appreciation of the fine arts and crafted “highly insightful, lyrical essays,” according to the US National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Dr Southgate semiretired from JAMA in 2008 and spent much of her time at her Marina City writing studio in Chicago, polishing her memoirs and finishing a murder mystery set in a medieval English town.

Survivors include her brother Clair (Marie) Southgate of San Diego, California, as well as 2 nieces and 5 grandnieces and grandnephews.

Many readers—physicians and nonphysicians alike—often asked why a preeminent journal in clinical and scientific medicine would reproduce a renowned work of fine art on its front cover each week. The answer was clear: “The visual arts have everything to do with medicine,” Dr Southgate said. “There exists between the two an affinity that has been recognized for millennia. Art is a uniquely human quality. It signifies the unquenchable human quality of hope. Long and loving attention is at the heart of painting. It is also at the heart of medicine, at the heart of caring for the patient.”

“Terry Southgate became the most beloved of all JAMA editors as a supremely sensitive humanist who selected the world’s greatest art with which to educate countless physicians about the intense humanity of their calling,” said former JAMA editor in chief George D. Lundberg, MD. In a 2007 Medscape interview, Dr Southgate stated: “What has medicine to do with art? I answer: Everything.”

JAMA Editor in Chief Howard Bauchner, MD, stated, “One of the great strengths of JAMA for decades has been its inclusion of the humanities—and no one epitomized that effort more than Terry Southgate, who orchestrated the wonderful art in JAMA for more than 40 years.”

In 1997, 2001, and 2010, Dr Southgate published 3 successive collections of her essays and the accompanying images that had appeared in JAMA over the years—The Art of JAMA—to critical acclaim. She was the 2008 recipient of the Nicholas E. Davies Memorial Scholar Award for Scholarly Activities in the Humanities and History of Medicine from the American College of Physicians. She was chosen by the NLM as a Local Legend, “honoring the remarkable, deeply caring women doctors who are transforming medical practice and improving health care for all across America.”

Catherine D. DeAngelis, MD, MPH, editor emerita, JAMA, stated: “The world has lost a warm, soft-spoken, unpretentious icon who taught so many physicians and others the value of art in life and who now exemplifies her motto, Ars longa, vita brevis.”

~ By Roxanne K. Young

Additional information about Dr Southgate and her work is available here.

Categories: Humanities