Amherst Magazine

James Manning Giffin
James Manning Giffin

In March 1999, Jim and Diane Giffin were considering moving to Chapel Hill, NC. I put them in touch with our son who lives there and they e-mailed back and forth. Jim and Diane were planning a trip to North Carolina.

In April 1999 Diane sent the following message to us in an e-mail: "Well, our trip is not to be. We are now focused on an entirely different path of life. This news is not good. Only three weeks ago, Jim was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)…"

Thus began a battle that Jim fought with characteristic grace, dignity, and courage. The battle ended on May 12, 2000 when Jim died at home in Ridgway, CO.

Jim was born in New York City, son of Lewis and Katherine Giffin. The family moved to West Hartford, CT, when Jim was ten years old. West Hartford was Jim's hometown when he matriculated at Amherst where he majored in English and was a member of Kappa Theta.

After graduation from Amherst, Jim attended Yale Medical School where he received his MD degree. He received his surgical training at Barnes Hospital in St Louis. Afterwards he served as Chief of Surgery at Beach Army Hospital in Mineral Springs, TX, and then at the 45th MUST Hospital in Tay Ninh, Vietnam. He was awarded the Bronze Star.

Upon returning to civilian life, Jim practiced surgery in Springfield, MO, for eleven years. In 1978 he moved to Delta, CO, where he continued to practice medicine. In 1991 he was recalled to active duty during Operation Desert Storm. He retired from the military as a Lt. Colonel in 1995 and moved to Ridgway, CO.

Jim married the late Elizabeth Curvish (Mount Holyoke '58) in 1958. They had three children. In 1991 he and Diane Marie Saia were married and they had two children.

Jim loved the outdoors and was an avid bicycler, fisherman, and backpacker. He also loved animals. For many years he raised and showed Great Pyrenees dogs. He wrote an authoritative book on the breed and later wrote several books on the medical care of dogs, cats, and horses, some of which became bestsellers.

Once Jim had been diagnosed with AML, he underwent three courses of chemotherapy. Regrettably, the cancer did not go into remission. He then considered his options and made a decision. As a doctor, he fully understood that further chemotherapy would be very debilitating and that his quality of life would deteriorate sharply. Jim decided against further treatments. He wanted to enjoy the remainder of his life as fully as possible. He wanted to spend as much time as possible with Diane and four year old Sarah. He wanted to absorb the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. He did both!

As Jim prepared for the end, he asked that I write this note for the Remembrance. In truth, he wrote much of what you are reading. Jim specifically wanted to express the following thought to the Class of '57:

"Amherst provided me with an extraordinary education that laid the foundation for a quality life. My diagnosis of acute leukemia, a fatal illness that produces few symptoms until close to the end, offered me a time of introspection not experienced by those whose lives end abruptly.

"During this time I was able to reestablish connections with friends from my earlier years. My Amherst classmates have given me valued support and meaningful insights that have greatly enriched my final days."

Those of us who have been in close touch with Jim during his illness have been privileged. We have been reminded of life's unpredictability and of its brevity. We also have watched a man face the end of his life with courage and dignity, caring about others rather than himself to the very end.

-Eliot S. Knight '57
 

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