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Board member, friend of MUSC remembered for service

Mikie Hayes| hayesmi@musc.edu | June 9, 2017

Photo by Anne Thompson
MUSC board member Dr. E. Conyers O'Bryan Jr., from left,; with wife, Jennie, son, Edward; and wife, Claire O'Bryan.

Longtime board of trustees member and graduate of the MUSC College of Medicine, E. Conyers O'Bryan Jr., M.D., 82, of Florence, South Carolina, died Sunday, May 21 in Charleston. Born April 2, 1935 in Kingstree, Dr. O’Bryan was the son of the late Edward Conyers O'Bryan Sr. and the late Margaret Huggins O'Bryan.

An overflow crowd packed the First Presbyterian Church of Florence on May 25 to pay tribute. Layton McCurdy, M.D., distinguished university professor, dean emeritus of the College of Medicine and Dr. O’Bryan’s lifelong friend, was among the mourners.

“Conyers was an absolutely powerful doctor and man, a very bright man,” McCurdy said. “If he said something, you could absolutely believe him. He was dedicated to patients, to the practice of medicine and to MUSC. The church was completely filled with people who loved him.”

After the service, the line to offer support to Dr. O’Bryan’s wife, Jennie, was 2 1/2 hours long, which to McCurdy signified the extraordinary legacy his friend had left behind.

As teenagers, the two were in the same grade in high school. As president of the class, McCurdy first met O’Bryan when he moved to Florence from Lake City. “I got to know him very well. He was just a really great guy,” he said. “What many people don’t know is that he was a really great baseball player, too.”

For college, the two went their separate ways, O’Bryan graduating with a B.A. from the University of South Carolina. But in the fall of 1956, they would reunite in medical school at MUSC, becoming roommates during their freshman year — sharing a multitude of experiences, even a few antics. They were both inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, a prestigious organization that recognizes a small number of medical students who excel in leadership, character, community service and professionalism.  

Again, life took them in different directions.

After medical school, Dr. O’Bryan served as a medical officer in the United States Marine Corps and later returned to MUSC to complete his residency. Upon completion, he returned to the Pee Dee region of the state to practice and start a family.

Dr. O’Bryan became a very active and generous alumnus, helping MUSC with many campaigns and projects. He established the Dr. E. Conyers O’Bryan Endowed Scholarship, which later became the Edward Conyers O'Bryan Jr. M.D. Fellowship in Global Health.

An avid supporter of the work of MUSC, Dr. O’Bryan dedicated himself to board service beginning in 1976, and twice serving as chairman of the MUSC Board of Trustees: first from 1994 to 1998 and again from 2000 to 2002. He most recently chaired the Board of Education Committee. He also served on the boards of both the MUSC Heart and Vascular Center and Hollings Cancer Center.

But his heart was in Florence. A beloved member of the community, Dr. O'Bryan was the founder and director of the Coronary Care Unit for McLeod Regional Medical Center from 1966 to 1995, raising the bar for diagnosis and treatment of the heart in the Pee Dee, and ultimately advancing services into a full cardiac program, leading to the first open heart surgery at McLeod in 1986.

Dr. O’Bryan explained the success at McLeod by crediting others. “When I first came here, cardiology was just beginning to really bloom out, almost like a dynamite explosion. And we were able to, with an awful lot of people helping, make this a regional heart center,” O’Bryan said.

He recently retired from private practice after 51 years of dedicated service. His patients were not ready for that news.

“Perhaps his most enthusiastic patient was my mother,” McCurdy said. “Conyers took wonderful care of her for years. She lived until she was 96, and he would even visit her at Bishop Gadsden. She would not let him quit practicing,” he said with a laugh. “He was a brilliant doctor.”

Dr. O'Bryan was the recipient of many awards and honors, including an Honorary Doctor of Humanity degree from Francis Marion University in December 2004 and the prestigious Order of the Palmetto in December 1994, awarded by then-Gov. Carroll A Campbell Jr. He held leadership positions in professional organizations at the local, state and national levels. He wrote numerous publications and made many scientific contributions to the fields of medicine and cardiology. In addition to the delight he took in writing, he was an avid reader and traveler.

The year 1974 sparks a treasured memory. During a yearlong sabbatical when McCurdy and his wife, Gwen, lived in London, Dr. O’Bryan came for a conference and stayed with them. A Churchill aficionado, McCurdy introduced him to a shop that carried mostly Churchill works, launching O’Bryan’s love for Winston Churchill’s books and subsequently his paintings.  

“When Conyers came to England in the fall of 1974, it was also the 100th anniversary of the birth of Winston Churchill. When I took him to one of my favorite bookstores, Conyers became fascinated with him. Many people don’t know that Churchill also painted and was a pretty good artist. Conyers bought some books and got very serious about collecting. He had an incredible collection of his books and bought two of his paintings. I take great pride in his love of Churchill. Some of our greatest discussions were when we were visiting on those things,” McCurdy said.

Dr. O'Bryan was a longtime member and deacon at First Presbyterian Church in Florence. He is described by colleagues and friends as a loving husband, father and grandfather; a wise and loyal friend; a dedicated mentor; and a beloved doctor.

He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Jennie F. O'Bryan; his son, Edward C. O'Bryan III, M.D., wife Claire, and granddaughter, Evelyn Margaret O'Bryan of Mount Pleasant; sister, Marion Hicks of Alpharetta, Georgia; and many nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that charitable contributions be made to the Edward Conyers O'Bryan Jr. M.D. Fellowship in Global Health. Donations can be made online at www.musc.edu/giving or by mail, with checks made payable to the MUSC Foundation and mailed to 18 Bee Street, MSC 450, Charleston, SC 29425.