Kind, selfless, gentle, brilliant. These are the words used by friends, family, and colleagues to describe the late Dr. John Feagin, who passed away on September 1st, 2019 at his home in Jackson, Wyoming. He was 85.
As an enthusiastic old-time skier and ski racing fan, Dr. Feagin quickly became a friendly face within the racing community in his hometowns of Jackson and Vail, as well as within the U.S. Ski Team. Dr. Feagin began his stint with the team as a volunteer doctor before being asked to serve as Team Physician during the 1992 Albertville Olympics. His legacy in the ski racing community lives on through the revolutionary steps he made in his career as a knee surgeon, developing some of the first arthroscopic procedures, forever changing orthopedics.
Prior to working with the U.S. Ski Team, Feagin served in the army for 24 years. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in West Point and became the first active-duty Army officer to attend medical school. He also served as a battlefield surgeon in Vietnam, acted as Commander of the Keller Army Hospital at West Point, and eventually founded and lead the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine.
Dr. Feagin and his family settled in Jackson, Wyoming in 1979, in search of a quieter, mountain town existence after he realized his climb through the ranks was taking him away from his real passion, working with patients. They purchased a private practice and soon after became staple citizens in the Jackson community. ’79 would be the year that U.S. Ski Team rookie, Andy Chambers, would tear his meniscus skiing in Targhee and meet the man he would come to call his second father.
“He was a very quiet, gentle, unassuming guy, and just a rockstar in the orthopedic world, specifically on the knee,” says Chambers. “He did the most amazing, physical, examination of your knee that could possibly be done. With almost nothing, he could tell you exactly what was wrong.”
After 10 years in Jackson, Dr. Feagin returned to Duke University (where he had previously received his master’s degree), to conduct research and teach in the residency program. Dr. Feagin served as a Professor of Surgery in the Divison of Orthopedics, while also serving as Chief of Orthopedic Services in Durham VA Medical Center. After his retirement from practice in 1999, he has gone back and forth between Vail and Jackson. In 2004, Feagin was awarded West Point’s Distinguished Graduate Award, an honor that has gone to Chief’s of Staff in the United States Army, Surgeon Generals, CEO’s of Forbes Top 100 Companies, even Presidents.
Despite Dr. Feagin’s high-status in the orthopedic field and collection of many accolades, he always prioritized people and patients over himself. Members of the Jackson Hole community remember him as the guy willing to make sacrifices for his patients, the guy who would go out of his way to make you feel like you were the most important person in the room. Many a ‘patient’ in Jackson has received an exam from Dr. Feagin on their time, without charge.
“There are so many friends of mine in Jackson who are ski instructors that would get hurt and would end up mowing John’s lawn, or painting John’s house, or doing something because they couldn’t afford to pay. You don’t find many surgeons that are willing to do that,” says Chambers.
Peter Stiegler, the founder of Jackson’s legendary Austrian restaurant now known as the Copper Bar and brother of Pepi Steigler, also considers Feagin as a second father. He claims that Feagin was the guy that encouraged him to move to Jackson and become an American citizen.
“He flew me to Kemmerer, Wyoming to go to the federal courthouse to become an American citizen and then flew me back up. He was one of those guys that no matter what, no matter where you were from, made you feel welcome,” says Stiegler. “He always made me really happy and proud, he was the gentlemen of the greatest. Always there when you gave him a call.”
Stiegler has fond memories of his relationship with Dr. Feagin that developed through a passion for ski racing. Family trips to weddings, ski trips to Portillo, and multiple knee operations on himself and each of his family members.
“He always let me park my car in front of his house in the village [at the base of Jackson Hole] so I didn’t have to worry about parking out there in that zoo, and we always drank a Schnapps afterward,” says Stiegler.
From Duke to West Point, to Jackson and Vail, the stories shared of Dr. Feagin’s work ethic and empathy speak to his strengths as a human being and as a doctor. His goal was to make everyone a little better for having known him and always taking responsibility for doing the right thing at the right time.
He leaves behind the Feagin Leadership Program, an educational initiative at Duke University that encourages developing young medical professionals into effective, ethical leaders who will positively influence healthcare. He is survived by Marth Feagin, his former wife and family partner, his sons Randle and Robert, daughter Nancy, and a collection of grandchildren, close family, and friends that will forever cherish his love and generosity.
A memorial service will be held at the United States Military Academy Chapel at West Point in New York, as well as a celebration of life at the Calico in Jackson, Wyoming on Wednesday, September 18th from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm. The family asks that in lieu of flowers that a donation to the Feagin Leadership Program Endowment Fund is considered, to help Dr. Feagin and his family carry on his legacy of serving the world, his country, and most importantly the people.