Dr. John A. Feagin, Jr., former resident and active Vail community member, died peacefully on Sunday, Sept. 1, at his home in Jackson, Wyoming, amid friends and family. He was 85.
John Autrey Feagin Jr. was born into a military family on May 9, 1934, at Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio when his father was stationed at Randolph Air Force Base after graduating from West Point.
John’s mother, Katherine Feagin, was a third-generation Texan. His appreciation and respect of service to country and love of Texas were deeply rooted from his youngest days. He enjoyed the mobile life of an Air Force brat while his father was stationed at Hamilton Air Base in Marin, California, and Tonopah, Nevada, but always connected back to the family home in Texas. He spent summers selling watermelons and ice on the Guadalupe River in Hunt, Texas.
John entered West Point in 1951 as one of the youngest in the Class of 1955. While he clearly was headed for a life of service to country and others, he was encouraged to attend the United States Military Academy by his father because of the secured paycheck upon graduation.
At West Point, he enjoyed being a Sunday School teacher, member of the NCAA-championship water polo team and class treasurer. John was forever proud of his classmates and the lifelong bonds forged at the Academy. His first career dream had been to fly in the Air Force, but, failing the eye exam, he was on to active duty service with the 82nd Airborne, Fort Bragg and two years of “soldiering.”
John was granted a “leave of absence without pay” to attend medical school. He loved the Army and wanted to be a surgeon-soldier. He was among the first three West Point graduates to be granted that permission.
He attended medical school at Duke University from 1957-61. In Durham, he met Martha Bagley, a Duke undergraduate from Alabama. They married in 1959, and they had the first of three children when Randle was born at the Duke hospital. John then did his internship at Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii and his orthopaedic residency from 1963-67 at Walter Reed in Washington, D.C. There they had two children, Rob and Nancy.
John served in Vietnam in 1966-67 with the 85th Evac in Qui Nhon. He was humbled by his time as a soldier surgeon serving his country.
A tour of duty as surgeon and team physician at West Point was followed by a fellowship in hip replacement surgery in England with Sir John Charnley at Wrightington Hospital. When John returned from England, the Army sent him to the Presidio at San Francisco and then once more to West Point to be hospital commander. Running a hospital and moving up the chain of command in the Army had its rewards but took time away from his passion of caring for patients.
In 1979 he retired from the Army and moved his family to Jackson to begin a private practice, run a medical clinic at the base of the young ski resort and raise a family in a mountain town. He became immersed in the ski town lifestyle, both in his personal and professional lives. In his orthopaedic practice, he was able to continue to specialize in sports medicine whether it was attending to the local football team, caring for the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol, or serving as the Team Physician to the U.S. Olympic Ski Team. All the while, taking the opportunity to foster a love for the outdoors and adventure in his family. He arranged for the whole family to learn about climbing and mountaineering, even instigating a family outing to summit the Grand Teton. He was also able to get his pilot’s license during those years and loved flying to rural clinics around the state.
After Jackson, John returned to Duke University in 1989 to continue his teaching and research career. He joined the orthopaedic faculty at Duke University in the Sports Medicine Division, where he remained until 1999. He was a team physician for Duke University Athletics, reuniting with Coach Mike Krzyzewski, whom he had taken care of when Mike was a basketball player at West Point. While at Duke they won two basketball national championships. It was a special time and he was ever thankful for the opportunity to be surrounded by the excellence of the coaches and players.
During his tenure at Duke, he embarked on one of his highlight adventures — flying his Cessna 182 in the footsteps of Charles Lindbergh, across the Atlantic. His only regret was that he could not take his trusty copilot Samba, his English sheepdog. Samba had over 5,000 logged copilot hours.
After Duke, it was John’s friendship and camaraderie with Dr. Richard Steadman that brought him to Vail. John became a dedicated supporter of the Vail Valley Medical Center, Howard Head Sports Medicine, The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute and he spent the next 10 years of ‘retirement’ mentoring Fellows and helping to build and grow the visions of the local medical community. John’s influence and network of mentees were instrumental in bringing top-notch physicians from around the country here to Vail, who will continue to carry his passion for patient care for our local community.
John, and his wife of 10 years, Martha Head, were active supporters of Vail in every sense and took pride in helping Vail grow while still preserving its character and history. John enjoyed playing golf at Eagle Springs Golf Club and attending lunch with his favorite group of friends and colleagues in the No Name Lunch Club.
John returned to Jackson, Wyoming, in 2015 where the remainder of his days were lived out making beautiful memories with his children and grandchildren.
Along the way, John was awarded numerous honors and continued to serve in a variety of ways. He was President of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine; served on the USMA Board of Trustees; earned the United States Military Academy’s Distinguished Graduate Award, and was named to the Sports Hall of Fame of the AOSSM and West Point.
The Feagin Leadership Program at Duke University was established to honor and build on Dr. Feagin’s legacy of leadership in patient care in medicine. The program is in its 11th year of teaching and inspiring young medical professionals. To many, the program is the culmination of his life work, with a focus tying together leadership, education, patient care and ethical values.
John is survived by his children Randle (Melissa) Feagin; Robert (Susan Temple) Feagin; and Nancy (Jonathan Carpenter) Feagin; and grandchildren Whitney Feagin; Lillian and Walter Duquette and Helen Feagin; and Connor Carpenter. He is also survived by Martha Feagin, his former wife, lifelong partner in family, and champion supporter; sister Katherine Jeter (Col. John R. Jeter, USMA ‘55); nieces and nephews; and so many extended cousins, family and friends that he cherished.
While serving as a mentor to many he remained forever grateful to his family for sharing his life’s journey and for his friends, colleagues and extended family for tolerating his peripatetic course. He always tried to live the West Point Cadet Prayer: “Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong. … And grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service.” May it be said, “Well done.”
A small celebration of Dr. Feagin’s life was held at Calico Restaurant in Wilson, Wyoming, on September 18. The formal memorial service will take place on Monday, Nov. 25, at the United States Military Academy Chapel at West Point in New York, where he will remain forever with his beloved classmates.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Feagin Leadership Program Endowment Fund at Duke University (feaginleadership.org). The endowment will ensure that Dr. Feagin’s legacy lives on in perpetuity. The Feagin Leadership Program provides transformational learning experiences that develop effective, ethical leaders who positively influence health care.