Ernest Craige, MD (1918–2008)
Ernest Craige, MD, 89, Professor Emeritus of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), died on January 24, 2008, at North Carolina Memorial Hospital. Dr Craige served as chief of the Division of Cardiology at the UNC School of Medicine for 26 years and was an internationally renowned expert in echocardiography.
Dr Craige was born on June 3, 1918, in El Paso, Texas, the son of Fr Branch Craige and Elsa Kohlberg Craige. He received his BA from UNC in 1939. Dr Craige was a member of the Golden Fleece, Order of Gimghoul, Phi Beta Kappa, and Sigma Nu Fraternity, of which he was chapter president. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship in 1939 but did not take up residence in England because of the outbreak of World War II. Instead, he attended Harvard Medical School and graduated with an MD degree in the spring of 1943. After an internship at Massachusetts General Hospital and Army training at Camp Barkley in Texas, Dr Craige participated in the northern European Campaign with the Fifth Auxiliary Surgery Group in 1944 and 1945. He published a cartoon history of his wartime experiences, When Our Hearts Were Young With Gay.
When the war was over in Europe, Dr Craige was sent to Fitzsimons Hospital in Denver to care for US Army personnel who had been held in Japanese prison camps. At Fitzsimons, he met Hazel Fischer, an Army officer nurse who was also stationed there. After they were married in Minneapolis in 1946, they moved to Boston where Dr Craige completed further medical training in cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital with Dr Paul Dudley White.
The Craige family went to Chapel Hill in 1952 when the UNC Medical School was expanding from a 2- to a 4-year curriculum and North Carolina Memorial Hospital was under construction. Dr Craige became the first chief of the Division of Cardiology at UNC in 1952 and served in that capacity until 1978. He retired in 1985.
Dr Craige was the author of more than 100 scientific papers and chapters in medical textbooks, and he carried out extensive cardiac research, principally on the physiological origin of heart sounds and murmurs. In this work, he collaborated with a series of talented academic investigators from the United States, Japan, England, and Switzerland. He received the Distinguished Teacher Award from the American College of Cardiology in 1982 and a similar honor from the UNC School of Medicine. Known for his wry sense of humor, Dr Craige was a gifted teacher who illustrated his lectures with drawings as he spoke. He frequently participated as invited faculty at the annual Auscultation Symposium of the Texas Heart Institute, and his presentations were always received with enthusiasm.
In response to professional invitations, Dr and Mrs Craige traveled widely in Europe, Asia, North Africa, and Latin America. Their travels supplied subject matter for many of Dr Craige’s watercolor paintings and for an extensive collection of international folk art. After he retired from his medical practice, Dr Craige devoted more time to painting and tennis, and he continued to create cartoons and poems for family celebrations. His watercolors have been featured in many exhibits and have been collected by students, colleagues, friends, and family.
Dr Craige was a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and a member of the Association of University Cardiologists, Alpha Omega Alpha, the American Clinical and Climatological Association, and the American Heart Association. He served on the UNC Medical Co-Founders Board and on the board of the UNC Press.
Throughout his life, Ernie treated everyone—patients, students, colleagues, staff, caretakers, and his wife and children—with kindness and respect. A great clinician, he engaged all his senses, his mind, and his heart in caring for his patients. During his last months, he continued to explore the world, reading books about Cambodian history and Afghan culture, watching classic films by Hitchcock and Eisenstein, and hearing about the adventures of his family in Italy, Mexico, Pakistan, Ecuador, and Malawi.
In a recent conversation, Dr Cam Paterson, the current Chief of Cardiology at Chapel Hill, offered a perspective on Dr Craige. He reflected, “Wherever I go, when I say I work at UNC, somebody comes up with an amazing Ernie Craige story. He was that influential and that memorable. When I look at his publications, though, I realize that he was the one person who used echocardiography to explain and expand the cardiac physical examination. When we listen to and understand the clicks and whirs of the heart, we do so in large part from what Dr Craige taught us.” Dr James T. Willerson characterized Dr Craige as a “master clinician and educator, always in pursuit of excellence in his professional efforts, with a wonderful sense of humor” and as a “very special cardiologist and person who will be greatly missed.”
I had the privilege of receiving my introduction to cardiovascular medicine under Dr Craige’s tutelage at the UNC School of Medicine, where he was Chief of Cardiology. His teaching, values, and persona inspired me to pursue a career in our field as a cardiovascular pathologist. After my graduation from medical school in 1966, he remained my mentor and became my friend until his death. I will be among the many to miss him greatly and to remember him frequently.