Hewlette Collier “Hew” Connell, 84, oncologist with a heart of gold

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Hewlette Collier "Hew" Connell
Hewlette Collier “Hew” Connell

Dr. Hewlette Collier Connell, 84,  died Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Williamsburg, Va., where he lived with his beloved wife of 37 years, Marty K. Connell, and a succession of dogs whom he spoiled terribly and unapologetically.

He was born on Aug. 16, 1932, in Barnesville, Ga., the only child of Doris Collier and George Boyce Connell, commandant at Gordon Military College. In addition to the normal pursuits of a young boy in small-town, Depression-era Georgia, Hew caddied at the local golf course and entered into a lifelong love of the game. If he wasn’t caddying, he was playing, ultimately becoming a scratch handicap golfer.

In 1946, George Boyce Connell was named vice-president, later to become president, of Mercer University in Macon, Ga. Hew graduated from Lanier High School in 1949 and from Mercer in 1953. During college, he enrolled in ROTC, played on the golf team, and was president of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. A proud son of Mercer, his love for his alma mater never dimmed.

Dr. Connell often said that even as a child he knew that he wanted to be a doctor. Making good on his ambition, Hew entered the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta from which he graduated in 1957. Shortly thereafter, he married the late Patricia Dowell of Raleigh, N.C., whom he met as a fellow student at Mercer and whose grandfather, Spright Dowell, was the school’s president when George Connell arrived as its vice president.

For the next two years he served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. After completing his military service in 1960, Dr. Connell entered into the general practice of medicine in Erwin, N.C., until 1964. Drawn to the challenge and promise of specialization in a new field of medicine, he began the first ever residency in radiation oncology at Duke University. For the next seven years, he served at Duke Medical Center as a practitioner, professor, and pioneer in this cutting edge of medicine. He was among the first 100 board-certified radiation oncologists in the nation, earning that distinction from the American Board of Radiology in June 1969.

In 1971, Dr. Connell returned with his family to Macon, Ga., as one of the first members of a rapidly growing practice that served middle and southern Georgia. Among numerous acts of charity, he anonymously maintained an account at a men’s clothing store in Macon to provide suits for underprivileged local athletes who needed them for their recruiting interviews. There he might have remained for the rest of his days, but for the chance to reunite with his friend and mentor at Duke, Pat Cavenaugh, who convinced him to renew their association at Rex Hospital in Raleigh in 1982. Ultimately, the two assumed the oncology practice at Nash General Hospital in Rocky Mount, N.C., where he remained for almost 10 years until his retirement and move to Williamsburg, Va., in 2000. Even in retirement, he continued his life’s work of caring for cancer patients through locums practice in West Virginia, New Mexico, the Dakotas and Nebraska for another six years. Finally, he served as a part-time member on staff at Virginia Oncology Associates in Hampton, Va., until May 2007.

Over the course of his distinguished career in cancer treatment, Dr. Connell cared for thousands of patients with the utmost effort, skill and compassion, from the most humble to the mother of a sitting president of the United States. When Hew Connell finally convinced Miss Lillian that he had in fact voted for her son Jimmy Carter in 1976, she said to him, “Well, you’re the only damn doctor in Georgia who did.” A proud and unwavering Democrat until the end, he bragged that “my first vote was Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and they never gave me a reason to switch.” It’s a safe bet the good doctor will not regret that he just missed the inauguration of our next president.

Hew Connell is survived by his wife, Marty of Williamsburg, Va.; son, George and his wife, Ginny, of Moorhead, Minn.; son, John, and his wife, Michelle, of Raleigh, N.C.; son, Michael, and his wife, Katherine, of Raleigh, N.C.; and son David, and his wife, Christy, of Raleigh, N.C.; nine grandchildren; and one last spoiled dog, Harper.

No funeral is planned. Online condolences may be offered at www.nelsencares.com.