Virginia "Ginger" Tullis Latham, MD, succumbed to metastatic pancreatic cancer on April 21 in Harvard, MA, surrounded by family. At age 76, she felt strongly that she had been extremely lucky throughout her life, as she had had the opportunity to live out both her childhood dreams of raising a family and becoming a physician. She achieved both goals to great acclaim, raising five sons and celebrating her 56th anniversary with her husband David last August, and receiving numerous honors and awards for her lifetime of service to the medical profession.
Ginger was born on May 28, 1940, in Durham, North Carolina, the first child of James Lyman Tullis, MD, and Marjorie (White) Tullis. As a preschooler she lived in Birmingham, AL, with her mother and younger sister while her father served as a medical officer in the European theater of WWII.
At the close of the war, the family moved to Newton, MA, where her father joined the staff of the New England Deaconess Hospital. Ginger attended Underwood School in Newton and in 1958 graduated from Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, MA. From there she headed to Duke University, where she had been recruited to attend as one of three Honorary Duke National Scholars.
During the fall of her first year at Duke, Ginger met David Winslow Latham, a student at MIT who grew up in Jamaica Plain, MA. The pull towards being a single minded, pre-medical student soon fell victim to the pull of romance. As a girl who grew up in the 1940s and 50s, it never occurred to her or her family that she could do both. Even though her own father was an MD, she had rarely met a female doctor and had never encountered one who was married or had children.
In the summer of 1960, while both still undergraduates, David and Ginger married and began life as a 20-year-old couple. They lived first in a one-room basement apartment on Beacon Street in Boston, and both worked part time while attending school. While David finished his MIT undergraduate degree and began graduate school in Astronomy at Harvard, Ginger completed her BA degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry at Boston University. She then began teaching general science in middle and high school.
The first of five boys soon arrived, with four more following close behind over the next 8 years. When David completed his PhD., the family moved to Tucson, AZ, where he was site testing for an innovative multiple mirror telescope. While in AZ, inspired by other women who were beginning to go back to school and work in the 1970s, Ginger began to rethink her earlier choice not to go to medical school, and started wondering if there was a way to become a physician and still be a good mother.
After the family moved back to Harvard, MA, and once her youngest son enrolled in kindergarten, Ginger launched Operation Medical School with her characteristic brio, refusing to see any obstacle as insurmountable. In 1976 she found herself enrolled at Harvard Medical School at the unusually old age of 36. Eight years later she had graduated from HMS and finished her residency in Internal Medicine at the New England Deaconess Hospital. Her sons celebrated by buying her a license plate marked MOMDOC that she proudly used until her death.
During her years of practice in Internal Medicine, primarily at Emerson Hospital in Concord, MA, Dr. Latham came to know and be very fond of her thousands of patients. While her greatest joy was direct patient care, she contributed to medicine in many other ways. Always striving to improve medical care in a broader sense, she became involved in efforts to improve the teaching and mentoring of physicians by helping to set up and teach in primary care rotations at Harvard Medical School. She also served as Chief of Medicine and then as Chief of Staff at Emerson Hospital as well as working as the hospital's Quality Control medical advisor. The further she advanced in her career, the more passionate and involved Dr. Latham became in issues around patients' access to care, the quality of that care, and how to improve systems of care within the state. Those interests led her to work with the Massachusetts Medical Society and the American Medical Association and thus to multiple roles and leadership responsibilities within those organizations at the district and state level, chairing multiple committees and task forces and eventually becoming President of MMS.
As a long-time leading voice of the Massachusetts delegation of the American Medical Association, Dr. Latham fought for the practice of ethical, responsible, national healthcare, and worked to improve standards of care. Her roles at the AMA culminated as Chair of the Board of the Senior Physicians Division, which under her leadership became a permanent section of the organization, working on concerns such as whether there should be mandatory testing for competence of physicians as they age, and how to address the growing shortage of physicians by identifying ways in which aging doctors could continue to serve.
Dr. Latham retired gradually and reluctantly as her own health became more and more impaired by rheumatologic and cardiac disease over the past decade. However, she stayed active in other aspects of her life until very recently. She took great pleasure in leadership roles for Harvard town activities including the local Garden Club Board, the Harvard Woman's Club and a weekly bridge group of the HWC in conjunction with the Harvard Committee on Aging.
Over the years one of Ginger's greatest joys was traveling all over the world with her husband. Both adventurous, many of the couples' happiest times involved meeting new people in places previously unfamiliar to them. Because of his leadership involvement at astronomical events all over the world, David was frequently a speaker in interesting foreign venues, while Ginger wandered the streets chatting with storekeepers, sipping teas, and navigating public transportation. She was able to communicate in most European languages—though her ear for accents was cringe-worthy—so that she could move about freely in foreign cities and towns. Guidebook in hand she was sufficiently undaunted and quite willing to ask simple "where is--?" type questions and understand basic answers in more remote locations like Thailand or Iceland.
"I cannot imagine a more fulfilling life than the one I have had with the privilege of talking with very humble and very famous people from all walks of life, religions, and political beliefs," she emailed to friends and family upon learning of her terminal cancer diagnosis. "My life has brought me such joy! My husband, our sons and their offspring have been an incredible blessing; I have had the opportunity to have a career that gave me the greatest of pleasure—what more could one have asked?"
Ginger is survived by her loving and beloved husband, Dr. David Winslow Latham, Sr, recognized internationally for his leadership in the search for exoplanets (planets which might support life orbiting other stars), as well as their five sons and their wives: James Allen and Wendy (Doulton) Latham of Los Angeles; Peter White and Maureen (O'Connor) Latham of Acton, MA; Drs. Andrew Scott and Karen (Bevacqua) Latham of San Francisco; Dr. Jonathan Nichols and Sarah (Sanborn) Latham of Deerfield, MA; and David Winslow, Jr, and Dawn (Gupta) Latham of Saint Louis. She was beloved by her 12 grandchildren – Christian, Nicole, Hannah, Emily, Harrison, Ian, Emma, Dean, Jamie, David, Luke and Elizabeth Latham. She is survived by her younger sisters, Ann Tullis Pearce of Point Clear, AL, and Susan Gay Dane of Cohasset, MA; and her brother James L.L. Tullis of Palm Beach, FL. She was predeceased by an infant brother, William Stuart Tullis. She also leaves behind her brothers-in-law Jon Dane and Thomas Latham, and her sisters-in-law Harriet (Latham) Robinson, Linda (Altorfer) Tullis, and Tauni Sauvage.
The funeral will be held at Trinity Church in Concord, MA, on Saturday, April 29, at 2:30PM, followed by a reception in the parish hall.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the: Virginia Tullis Latham MD Scholarship Fund to provide tuition assistance to deserving medical students in need. Checks may be made payable to the Middlesex Central District of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and mailed in care of William Burtis, MD, PhD, 25 Lowell Road, Concord, MA 01742.