When Dr. Gary B. Williams and his wife, Pamela, gave a gift of $5 million to Summa Health, the news was, literally, shouted from the rooftop.
In fitting acknowledgement of the largest gift ever bestowed on Summa Health by a physician and the second largest in the history of the health system, Cliff Deveny, M.D., interim president and chief executive officer of Summa Health, made the announcement from the highest vantage point possible — the top of the Adolph Garage — at the Rooftop Rendezvous on October 4, 2017.
In sharing the remarkable news with the health system’s closest friends and advisors, who had gathered to view progress on the new tower next door, Dr. Deveny put an exclamation point on an already exuberant occasion.
For Dr. Williams and his wife, Pamela, it was a profoundly rewarding moment. Having introduced coordinated, patient-centered, multidisciplinary care for breast health services at Summa Health, Dr. Williams would now see his name and his wife’s grace all locations where Summa Health provides breast health services.
The Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Center for Breast Health is the first space in the new tower named to honor a generous benefactor, a fitting tribute to the pioneering physician who first embraced the transformation in healthcare delivery that now marks all care at Summa Health. The care he brought to breast health services mirrors the patient care planned for all disciplines in the new tower under construction.
As a surgeon at Summa Health for more than four decades, Dr. Williams, now semi-retired, frequently witnessed the distress of patients whose routine mammograms revealed a concern, a worry compounded by the time it took to get a definitive diagnosis. Driven by his innate compassion, he made it his goal to speed the time from diagnostic imaging to diagnosis and treatment. To that end, he envisioned a center that put all the clinicians involved in breast health in one location – radiologists, surgeons, oncologists and others.
The first physical space of his signature care opened on the Akron Campus in 2015 with the support of the Walter W. Born Foundation, the Women’s Board of Summa Health System, and Dr. and Mrs. Robert Hamor. When the tower opens in 2019, 19,000 square feet of it will be the new home on the Akron Campus of the Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Center for Breast Health.
The magnitude of the Williams’ gift reflects the magnanimous nature of the couple behind it. Married for 48 years, Dr. and Mrs. Williams are kindred spirits who are committed to helping others. In addition to sharing her husband with Summa Health patients for more than four decades, Mrs. Williams has made her own indelible mark on the community. For years, she has kept a “go bag” in a
back bedroom, ready to travel at a moment’s notice to the heart of a disaster area when the American Red Cross calls for help.
A lifelong educator, Mrs. Williams has worked at schools in Akron, Cuyahoga Falls and Worthington. In addition to the American Red Cross, she is active with United Way of Summit County, Leadership Akron Alumni Association and the Northern Ohio Golf Charities Foundation. She is a member of the University of Akron Foundation board of directors and serves on the President’s Advisory Council.
The couple met at the University of Akron, where both received their undergraduate degrees. The Drs. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Honors College is named in their honor.
Dr. Williams has been a member of the Masonic Fraternity for nearly 50 years. He is active in the Shrine, a branch of the organization that helps disabled children and burn victims.
For Dr. and Mrs. Williams, their generosity to Summa Health marked a timeline rich with the gratitude of countless patients and the hundreds of physicians and surgeons trained by Dr. Williams in the compassionate delivery of clinical excellence. When Dr. Williams was presented with the Summa Health Distinguished Physician Award in May 2017, many of his former residents stepped forward to express their love and admiration.
John Zografakis, M.D., director of advanced laparoscopic surgical services and medical staff president at Summa Health, said he still hears Dr. Williams’ voice guiding him during surgery.
Dr. Salina Wydo, a former resident who is now a trauma and critical care surgeon in Camden, New Jersey, said “I still model my moral and professional code after you … You showed me how to be passionate about the huge responsibility we have to the people we serve.”
Dr. Eric Turney, a vascular surgeon at Summa Health, said he thrived under Dr. Williams’ training. “He formed us into caring, clinically excellent surgeons.”
“I want breast health services at Summa to be the best there is in this area and really the best there could be anywhere in the country,” Dr. Williams said on the rooftop when his gift was announced.
When the news went out on social media, expressions of gratitude filled page after page.
Long before the idea of patient-centered, multidisciplinary care for breast health became standard practice, Dr. Williams saw the need and pursued filling it, endearing himself to thousands of patients during his career. That legacy will continue at the Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Center for Breast Health in the compassionate care of the physicians he trained.
NOTE: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of Promise magazine.