Washington People: William Hawkins

Losses due to cancer inspired physician’s pursuit of medicine, research

William Hawkins and researcher in lab
Linda Jin, MD, a Washington University School of Medicine research fellow, and William Hawkins, MD, a professor of surgery, work in Hawkins' lab. Principal investigator of a $10.4 million federal grant, Hawkins leads a national group of scientists working to develop new treatments for pancreatic cancer. (Photo: Robert Boston/School of Medicine)

William Hawkins, MD, never met the man who helped inspire him to become a cancer surgeon and researcher. Hawkins was born six months after his grandfather Gabriel Jooris, an artist and art restorer, died of the disease. But the family stories Hawkins heard painted a picture of someone who was larger than life.

Jooris grew up in Belgium during World War II, when the Nazis stole and destroyed many works of art. He would go on to write a book, translated into dozens of languages, about restoring art instead of painting over it, a common practice at the time.

“He apparently was the life of a party. He participated in church plays. He was a professional artist; he did stained glass and needlework. He has work in museums in Canada. That somebody who was so meaningful to my family had cancer really affected me.”

As a child, Hawkins lost a cousin and a classmate to cancer, too.

“While I didn’t know then that I wanted to be a doctor, I thought I wanted to do something about the problem of cancer,” he said.

Today, Hawkins is the Neidorff Family and Robert C. Packman Professor of Surgery and chief of the Hepatobiliary-Pancreatic and Gastrointestinal Surgery Section at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and a physician at Siteman Cancer Center.

Read the full profile on the School of Medicine site.