James F. Guthrie, M.D., 81, surgeon, Korean War vet, family man

James Francis Guthrie, M.D., of Ridgefield, Connecticut and former New Canaan resident, died peacefully at Norwalk Hospital on Friday, June 8, 2012. He was 81. A dedicated surgeon who was beloved by his patients and respected by his colleagues, Dr. Guthrie was truly a gentleman whose outstanding skills were only exceeded by his compassion and optimism.

Dr. Guthrie was born in Brooklyn, NY, on September 19, 1930, the only son of the late Sophie Marino and Walter Guthrie. After graduating from Brooklyn Preparatory School he went on to major in history at Villanova College where he lettered in track. Drafted into the Army as a private immediately after graduating from college, he served in Korea and was promoted to Sergeant Major of the 224th Combat Infantry Regiment and was awarded numerous commendations including a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Following his honorable discharge in 1954, Dr. Guthrie was an executive trainee and buyer at Macy’s in San Francisco. One year later, despite an acceptance to Harvard Business School, he  decided that his calling was medicine. Premed credits were gained at New York University where he then entered medical school. Graduating in 1961, he completed his surgical residency at Bellevue where he met his beautiful wife, Sandy. He served as Chief of Surgery at Raritan Valley Hospital from 1966-72 and was the first Medical Director for the new Rutgers medical school.

After successfully practicing as a general surgeon, Dr. Guthrie decided to follow the example of his uncle and cousin, A.W. Martin Marino, Sr. and Jr., and become a colon and rectal surgeon.  He established a practice in Norwalk, becoming the first colorectal surgeon in southern Connecticut.

An Attending Surgeon at Norwalk Hospital for more than 36 years, Dr. Guthrie served as Chief of Colon and Rectal Surgery for much of that tenure.  He was a member of the Norwalk Hospital Board of Trustees from 1986-1992 and served on the Norwalk Hospital Foundation Board of Directors from 1991 until his death.   He derived great pleasure in supporting the hospital’s continued growth and was recognized for his efforts with the Department of Surgery Distinguished Service Award in 1991 and again in 1993 with the William J. Tracey, M.D. Award for his philanthropic leadership.

A pioneer in colonoscopy, Dr. Guthrie was honored during his career for surgical innovation and was instrumental in furthering his specialty.  He created several chairs in colorectal surgery at leading universities and was a guiding force in helping to reshape and fund raise for the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons Research Foundation.  His leadership extended across many medical organizations and he served as President for both the New England Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons and the Norwalk Medical Society.  In 2008 he was presented the inaugural Paul K. Maloney, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Service Award by the Connecticut State Medical Society.

While he was a dedicated surgeon who made his patients his utmost priority, Dr. Guthrie made a deep mark in the fabric of Norwalk Hospital and his community.  With his close friend, the late Paul Maloney M.D., he founded the Irish Brigade, an informal marching and chowder society that hosted an annual event to build collegiality within the hospital and the community at large.  Along with Carol Bauer, he started the annual Gala Dinner Dance which he viewed as both a fund raiser and a friend raiser for the hospital.  His enthusiasm and energy were infectious and he spread a sense of camaraderie by sharing what he termed “jazzy jokes and peppy bits of patter.”  His practice of giving out faux diamond rings artfully presented with a Tiffany flourish was well known and at last count the number of “Guthrie Girls”, as the recipients became known, numbered in the hundreds.

Dr. Guthrie’s life centered on his love of family, friends and country, his profession, his faith and an incessant interest in politics and history.  He was a man of gentle style who was rarely seen in anything other than a suit and tie, but who always exuded a warm welcome, kindness and respect for all he met.

“We celebrate his life, remembering with great love his compassion, humor, creativity, legendary generosity, sense of duty and his ability to make everyone around him feel so special,” said his family.

He is survived by his four children: daughter Camille Guthrie (Kelly Shackelford) of New Canaan, CT and sons James Guthrie (Piya) of Houston, TX, Durkin Guthrie (Karen) of Los Angeles, CA and Jefferson Guthrie of Ridgefield, CT. He is also survived by his grandsons, Cole, Kyle and Liam.

In February, he mourned the loss of his beloved wife of almost fifty years, Sandy.  He was also predeceased by his parents, Sophie and Walter Guthrie and his sister, Camille Guthrie.

The family will receive friends at the Kane Funeral Home, 25 Catoonah Street, Ridgefield, CT on Sunday, June 10, from 4-7pm.  A Funeral Mass will be held at St. Aloysius Church, 21 Cherry Street, New Canaan, CT on Monday, June 11, at 1pm.  Interment will be private.

Memorial contributions in his name may be made to the Norwalk Hospital Foundation, 34 Maple Street, Norwalk, CT  06856.