Remembering James P. Clayton — A Modern Island Doctor

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Dr. Clayton sailing in the Mediterranean.

Dr. James P. Clayton of Estate Rendezvous died at his second home in Canmore, Alberta, Canada, on May 11 after a seven-month battle with lung cancer with his wife Lee Eng Khauv at his side.

Dr. Clayton was the island doctor on St. John since he arrived in1990 to work at the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center after visiting the island over the 1980s and opened Cruz Bay Family Practice in 1991.

James Clayton was my doctor for the last 20-plus years on St. John. It was easy to recognize James’ patients, including me, for the Band Aids covering areas where Dr. Clayton had methodically frozen suspicious skin lesions with his handy canister of liquid nitrogen.

I traveled to Red Hook a few months ago for the free skin screening James always offered at his practices. Seeing James for the first time in a few years, and the first time since he was diagnosed with lung cancer last year, he asked how I was — and I said “Nevermind me, how are you?”

“I’m fine,” Dr. Clayton said matter-of-factly.

We didn’t talk about his illness.

Dr. Clayton’s examination was clinical, quick but thorough.

As I left, Dr. Clayton was busy consulting in the hallway with another doctor at the busiest office in his practice and I left with a “Thanks, Doc.” called over my shoulder.

James, an accomplished general practitioner and businessman, was an early proponent of internet medicine, bringing the latest medical information to St. John.

As an island doctor, James took advantage of the evolving communication technology of the past two decades to bring the most up-to-date medical care to his little island practice — and to consult with his peers whenever necessary.

We are reminded of that everyday in our family.

Dr. Clayton put a few stitches in our infant son Oliver’s forehead when he was no more than two years old and fell face forward on a Duplo Lego building block on a tile floor — leaving the plastic building block stuck in the skin between his fair eyebrows.

When the Lego fell to the floor with a clatter, Oliver was left with a perfect bloody “O” cookie-cut into his forehead and held in place by one thread of skin on one side of the circle.

From his Cruz Bay office, Dr. Clayton called called one of the world’s  pre-eminent plastic surgeons, “Dr. Nip and Tuck” Tattersall on Tortola, British Virgin Islands, for an international consultation late on a weekday evening.

After a technical, international consultation, Dr. Clayton deftly administered anesthetic with a needle between the eyes of a writhing infant and deftly put in three stitches around the circular cut while anxious parents pinioned their child to the examining table — forever preserving a faint scar of Oliver’s initial on his forehead as a reminder of James’ skill.

As private a person as he was, James got me involved in his personal life when he first sought to date island artist Lee Eng Khauv, a close friend of my wife. James had a crush on Lee Eng and tracked me down to ask if I thought he should ask Lee Eng out.

I encouraged James to contact Lee Eng — and let nature take its course. They quickly married in 2004.

The two truly and sincerely loved one another “‘til death due us part.” James and Lee Eng spent the last few weeks of his life together in Canada and Lee Eng spent the last few precious moment by his side… “I love you.” were his last words before he went on to his next adventure.

With the help of a few St. John friends, Lee Eng spread some of James’ ashes in the mountains of Canada which James loved as much as the waters of the Virgin Islands, and has brought James home to St. John.

A memorial service is planned for Sunday, June 8, at 10:30 a.m. at Caneel Bay’s Estate Turtle Bay.