SOUTH KINGSTOWN – As the first board-certified surgeon at South County Hospital, Dr. John J. Walsh is one of few who witnessed and experienced the changes at the hospital from when it grew from a 46 bed, single building to a 100-bed acute-care facility. Yet after 57 years at South County, spanning six decades, Walsh, an emergency room physician has retired at age 89 this past Dec. 31.
Ever since he was a student at Boston College High School, a Jesuit prep school next to a hospital, Walsh wanted to be a doctor and through the Great Depression and World War II, he eventually became one, starting a career that would span 63 years.
“I had no right to expect to become a doctor. My family had no money,” Walsh said.”I had to work little jobs here and there to get through school. I stopped school for one whole year to work.”
Walsh grew up in Boston where his father drove trolleys and buses. Although his family wanted him to become a priest, Walsh said he was stubborn and pursued his dream of becoming a doctor.
Walsh, with a sly joshing smile, attributes his medical career to Adolf Hitler.
“He started the war. We were all going to war. My draft notice came up and the Navy had a special unit, V-12 for people training to be doctors,” Walsh said.
The Navy paid for Walsh to attend Tufts Medical School and when he left active duty in 1945 he only had one year of school to pay for himself.
“I was stubborn to wait for it and it finally happened,” Walsh said.
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