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A True Life-Saver

Doctor is honored for a lifetime of service.

Colletta King and her husband, retired Deptford Township physician William J. King, during a ceremony honoring him at Inspira on December 18, 2014. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )
Colletta King and her husband, retired Deptford Township physician William J. King, during a ceremony honoring him at Inspira on December 18, 2014. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )Read more

The look on Dr. William J. King's face Thursday afternoon said something was not right.

Told that son Chad was not feeling well, the retired head of family practice at Inspira Medical Center in Woodbury had stopped by the hospital to see him.

But as the 84-year-old King stepped into the family-practice waiting room, there was Chad, looking fit as a fiddle. There, too, were King's wife, Coletta, and several grandchildren, a dozen members of his church, numerous medical colleagues, and Inspira's chief operating officer.

And they were all smiling at him.

To his great astonishment, it was Bill King Day at the medical facility once called Underwood-Memorial Hospital and where, in 1968, he became its first African American physician.

That distinction would pale, however, next to the many other accolades heaped upon the revered doctor-turned-pastor over the next 45 minutes.

"We do have a semiformal program," John Graham, Inspira-Woodbury's chief operating officer, said to King as the man being honored clasped the hands of well-wishers and tried to make sense of the moment.

After telling the crowd of 75 that "this is a surprise," and thanking them for the care and attention he had received in August as a patient, King was escorted to a corner of the room where Graham stood at a lectern.

"You touched so many lives," Graham told King, and described how he had grown up poor in Coatesville, won a basketball scholarship to Virginia Union University, graduated magna cum laude, studied physical therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, and paid his own way through the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, where he earned a D.O. degree.

After practicing medicine in the Air Force, King joined the staff at Underwood-Memorial, where he later became chair of its family medicine practice, medical director of its residency program, and served on numerous committees.

In preparing for his remarks, Graham said, "I asked for stories, and I kept hearing nice things. You were compassionate. Caring. A leader. A great teacher. We were lucky to have you."

Graham was followed by Chad King, who hailed his father as a "great man" who was "there if you had money or didn't, and who'd come to your house if you couldn't come to him."

Andrew DiMarino, a gastroenterologist on staff, hailed King as "one of the most outstanding humans I know," and hailed him for stepping in to restore Underwood's residency program in the late 1980s after a wave of resignations had threatened its collapse.

"We needed a superman. He was the only person who could have saved the residency program," said DiMarino, who said King won the "universal respect of the staff and students."

"You didn't just break barriers," DiMarino told King. "You blew them away."

He was followed by Suzanne VanDerwerken, current head of residency at Inspira-Woodbury, who spoke of King's remarkable gift for applying new research into clinical methods.

"He's the quintessential example of the leader servant," VanDerwerken said.

Senior staff and members of King's family joined him at the lectern for the unveiling of a framed photo and plaque that will memorialize him.

"This will make sure his name is remembered in the city of Woodbury," said granddaughter Chassidy King.

When it was his turn to speak, King, who now serves as pastor of the Living Word Bible Fellowship in Blackwood, gave special thanks to his granddaughter for organizing the ceremony, to his wife "of more than 50 years" for her "patience, kindness, and tolerance," and to Jesus.

"I could not do it without you," he said.

"I love what I'm doing now, growing the congregation," he said, adding that he felt "unworthy" of all the attention.