Baylor College of Medicine Alumni

Alumni Spotlight: Robert Wilson Crosthwait, Jr., M.D.

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The Robert Wilson Crosthwait, Jr. Scholarship at Baylor College of Medicine was established by his daughter, Gay Grunfeld in 2020.

The purpose of the fund is to provide scholarships in support of tuition and fees with a preference for students with learning disabilities or who belong to the LGBTQ+ community.

Fifteen years ago, on June 21, 2005, the world lost a great physician and community leader. Our family lost its heart, soul and conscience.

Robert Wilson Crosthwait, Jr., known his entire life as “Bobby,” was born on June 25, 1934, in Waco, Texas. He was the son of a surgeon and the grandson of two prominent surgeons, both of whom served as presidents of the Texas Surgical Society.  Bobby’s grandfather, Dr. W. L. Crosthwait, founded the Crosthwait Clinic and dedicated himself to serving the East Waco community, which earned him the moniker “Dr. Jesus.” He was eventually joined in practice at the Clinic by his son, Dr. Robert Wilson Crosthwait, who was educated at Baylor College of Medicine. Bobby’s other grandfather, Dr. K.H. Aynesworth, served on the Board of Regents of the University of Texas and founded the Texas Collection at Baylor University.

Although born into privilege and a medical dynasty, Bobby struggled in school. He could not read until sixth grade. He was sent home from the prestigious Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, out of fear that his failure there would lead to being drafted for military service for the Korean War. When he returned to Waco High School, his parents considered that they might be able to purchase a gas station where he could work upon graduation. Bobby later came to understand that he had an undiagnosed learning disability called dyslexia.

While attending Waco High, Bobby fell in love with Carol Turner, a longtime family friend who would eventually become his wife of 49 years. In a small town twist, Carol had been delivered into this world by Bobby’s father, Dr. Crosthwait, who was a last-minute substitution for Bobby’s grandfather, Dr. Aynesworth.

After high school, Bobby’s parents half-jokingly offered him a car if he could get into medical school, never believing it possible. But his love for Carol and his determination to succeed overcame his scholastic challenges. Bobby finished Baylor University in three years and then drove his new car to Baylor College of Medicine to begin medical school in 1955. Bobby married Carol in 1956 and graduated from Baylor with honors in May 1959.

Bobby completed a six-year cardiovascular and thoracic surgical residency under Baylor giants Dr. Denton Cooley and Dr. Michael DeBakey, from whom he learned the early open-heart surgery techniques and with whom he published academic papers. At the completion of his residency, Bobby decided to return to Waco and practice with his father. In doing so, he gave up prestige and compensation, but he always felt it was worth it.

Bobby became a leader in the Waco medical community. He immediately took steps to improve outdated equipment and techniques in the local hospitals and to recruit talented new physicians to Waco. In 1972, he worked with his partner, Baylor College of Medicine graduate Dr. Robert T. (“Rob”) Angel, to create an open-heart surgery program at Providence Hospital in Waco. To achieve open-heart surgery in Waco, they also had to open a cardiac catheterization lab. Bobby and Rob felt strongly that people in Waco and the surrounding towns should not have to drive hours to receive this life-saving surgery. Bobby also played a critical role in establishing and supporting the Waco Family Medicine Residency Program. These programs required significant fund-raising and effort and are still operational today.

Bobby sometimes called himself a tradesman because he spent so much time standing and operating. He wanted his three daughters to have a superb liberal arts education, which he missed by completing his undergraduate degree so quickly. Although he sent his children to Wellesley College and Vanderbilt University for their undergraduate degrees and to Columbia University, the University of Texas, and the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University for graduate school, Bobby was never a school snob. In fact, if anyone denigrated the school that accepted them he would say, “There is more there at that school than you can learn. So go get ‘em.”

He worked hard to educate himself in history, politics and art. At home, he typically relaxed with a book. He presented papers to the Philosopher’s Society of Waco and became a vicar of the Episcopal Church. Towards the end of his life, he became more open about his learning disability and spoke to local groups about this issue. He took his life motto from the Gospel of Luke: “Unto whom much is given, much is expected.” Luke 12:48.

Bobby died of lung cancer at age 70 and never got to see his family grow to include LGBTQ+ individuals. Bobby’s granddaughter is a proud trans woman who continues the Crosthwait-Aynesworth medical legacy as a physician and who is setting up a family medicine practice in Oregon, where she lives with her wife. Bobby would havesupported making medical education more inclusive to all and would have been proud to have the scholarship benefit an LGBTQ+ student.

Anyone who wishes to contribute to The Robert Wilson Crosthwait, Jr. Scholarship may make a gift online or send a check to the attention of the Robert Wilson Crosthwait, Jr. Endowed Scholarship Fund, Baylor College of Medicine, PO Box 4976, Houston, TX 77210. If you are interested in establishing a scholarship or learning more about the process, email us at alumni@bcm.edu.