More than a century ago, Hamilton Witherspoon McKay graduated from Davidson College after a successful career in the classroom and on the football field. The son of a Presbyterian minister, he is remembered as a man of faith whose inspiration, courage, hard work and foresight influenced many people and projects.
Called a “progressive leader” in many news articles throughout his career, the 1906 graduate was a pioneer in the field of urology in the Carolinas and the Southeast, as was his brother Robert, and he became one of the leaders in the field in the United States. McKay, along with other doctors, helped found Charlotte Memorial Hospital in 1940, and the renamed Carolinas Medical Center remains a state-of-the-art hospital today.
Hamilton McKay believed reason and faith complemented one another and that doctors benefitted from a deep understanding of the human condition and of healing. He also believed doctors should be trained in human and public relations as much as they are trained in the science of medicine. In 1951 in the Southern Medical Journal, McKay wrote that a typical well-trained doctor in 1950 “can make a difficult diagnosis and direct the therapy. If he is trained to do a lung or brain operation, he can do it well. In short, he is a first-class scientific product, ‘ready and willing to go.’ But, he has not been taught, either in medical school or in the hospital, to become a part of the community, one of the people.”
McKay was certainly a part of the community and one of the people. In addition to service to alma mater as a member of the Board of Trustees and its Executive Committee, McKay served on the boards of many organizations, including the North Carolina Board of Medical Examiners, the Southern Surgical Association and the American Urological Association. In addition, McKay made noteworthy contributions through his civic involvement. He was a co-founder and charter member and Elder of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, chairman of the Mecklenburg County Red Cross, a trustee of Union Theological Seminary and president of the Charlotte Chapter of Rotary.
Davidson has received a significant gift that will honor McKay’s contributions and name the atrium in the E. Craig Wall Jr. Academic Center. It also will support the naming of an endowed professorship in the biosciences and human health and will be used for general faculty support at the discretion of the college.
The plaque in the atrium will read, “Dr. Hamilton Witherspoon McKay was a student athlete while at Davidson, and he became a gifted physician, civic and church leader and Davidson Trustee. He exemplified the qualities and values of integrity, intellect, leadership and innovation in the field of medicine. This gift was made to honor his many contributions and in support of Davidson students’ and graduates’ journeys to become thought leaders and problem solvers in healthcare and related fields.”
“Dr. McKay lived out the mission of Davidson through his commitment to forward-looking leadership in service to his community and humanity,” said Davidson College President Carol Quillen. “He believed in educating the whole person, and that is exactly what we know the Wall Center and our faculty’s transdisciplinary approach to research and learning will make possible for our students. We are fortunate to have Dr. McKay’s extraordinary legacy remembered in such a special way on our campus.”
McKay received his doctorate in medicine from Jefferson Medical College in 1910. During World War I, he was a major in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and, after serving in France, pursued post-graduate studies at the University of Paris. His full-time practice in urology began when he returned to Charlotte.