Deceased September 6, 2015
Our classmate Andy (Dr. J. Andrew) Billings died on Sept. 6, 2015, one day before his 70th birthday, from complications of lymphoma. Andy was a doctor’s doctor, an English major and poetry lover who came to Amherst from L.A. via Putney and “went into the family business” (both parents, spouse and brother M.D.s) at Harvard Medical School. Colleague (and author) Dr. Atul Gawande wrote on the day of his death: “Andy’s career and contributions to humane care of the seriously ill have been long and profound. He was a pioneer ... the founding physician of the first hospice in Massachusetts.
He created with (his wife) Dr. Susan Block, what would become the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care. He was the founding director of the Mass. General Hospital Palliative Care Service. Susan and he created Harvard’s program in Palliative Care Education and Practice through which they trained many hundreds of people who have gone on to found palliative care programs across the country and the world.”
For someone who, with Susan, his wife and partner of 32 years, was pivotal to developing the field of palliative care in America, through his teaching, writing and example—against great skepticism in the medical establishment—Andy wasn’t one to toot his own horn, a pattern of a lifetime. (I could only find one picture of this Sphinx president, Phi Beta Kappa member and star madrigal singer in our yearbooks—in his freshman group photo.) It could not have been easy for this shy guy to allow his picture (sans hair) and cancer fight to be discussed in a Nov. 19, 2013, New York Times article on “How Doctors Die: Showing Others the Way”—but it was consistent with everything else in his life as a healer.
In addition to Susan, a professor at Harvard Medical School, sons Josh (a professor at Princeton and Rhodes Scholar) and Gabe (a recent Ph.D. in physics from Stanford) carry on Andy’s legacy of intellectual rigor and compassionate commitment.
Andy was a great listener (much of his early work after med school focused on teaching doctors how to listen to patients), and no one knows this better than I. A roommate in college and graduate school, best man 45 years ago, godfather to our son and counselor to all our kids, next door neighbor in the Berkshires, Andy—and Susan—have been best friends and tireless listeners and counselors to me and my family for a half century. His generosity of spirit, his intelligence, his good humor, his love for his own family and all of his patients and friends will not be forgotten.
Harold R. Wilde Jr. ’67