Dr. James P. Clayton
He was a perfectionist in pursuit of the highest level of care for his patients, and he expected only the best from his staff and colleagues. This is how Dr. James Pace Clayton, who passed away May 11 in Canmore, Canada at the age of 60 after a short battle with lung cancer, was remembered last week by those closest to him.
Clayton is well-known in the Virgin Islands community as the founder of the Red Hook Family Practice, which included offices in Cruz Bay and Yacht Haven. He was born and raised in New York City, and had lived in the Virgin Islands for the last quarter-century. When he first arrived in the territory, Clayton worked as a physician with the Virgin Islands government doing rotations at the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center, where he pushed to get the latest equipment, ensuring patients had access to state of the art medical technology.
Longtime friend Amy Roberts remembered Clayton’s tireless commitment to his patients.
“You always knew that even in the middle of the night, he’d be there for you,” she said. “I was his roommate for a time and the phone would ring all night. He’d be up and alert and out the door in 30 seconds to see one of his patients. I think those of us who’ve had him as friends got very used to him showing up late for a dinner or having to leave early. He really did put his patients first.”
Longtime St. John resident Lonnie Willis, who first met Clayton as one of his patients and developed a friendship with the physician over time, lauded him for his approach to medicine.
“The thing that struck me the most was he was the most thorough doctor I’d ever been to,” said Willis. “He saw you as a human being, not as the pain in your side. He’d find out everything that was bothering you from head to toe, them come up with a strategy of how to rule out various ailments. I was very impressed with him and I found that he was wonderful at diagnosing people.”
Clayton was dedicated to ensuring his patients received the best care from the moment they walked in the door at one of his three offices, and as such, he had high expectations of his staff. Front desk supervisor June Francis credits Clayton for helping her develop the ability to welcome the practice’s patients like old family members.
“He encouraged the development of my skills and taught me to perform the way I’m supposed to perform,” said Francis. “He taught me the importance of giving somebody your word and following through. Our relationship grew from boss and employee to him becoming like a dad to me.”
Francis admitted last week that the practice’s staff was having a tough time processing Clayton’s loss, with some of employees breaking down into tears throughout the day. Front desk receptionist Catherine Jacques said she is confident, though, that Clayton imparted the necessary skills and structure to keep his successful practice thriving, even in his absence.
“I think he instilled something very good in the people he has here,” said Jacques. “As long as we keep doing what Dr. Clayton wanted us to do, we’re good. Dr. Clayton wanted everything done perfectly, and you had to understand that part of him to truly appreciate him. He didn’t settle for mediocre.”
Even when Clayton was spending time at his second home in Canada, he checked in every day, recalled Veronica O’Brien Powell, who’s provided women’s health services at his practice for 14 years.
“He was a visionary, he was a perfectionist, and he was impossible, but it was all for a purpose,” she said. “He really had a vision and he expected everybody to be on board, but he was totally on board too. He really was amazing in that way. I feel like there’s a lot about him that I didn’t even know, but the sliver that I did know was so impressive.”
Although Clayton was tirelessly dedicated to his practice and his patients, he still made time to pursue his own interests, which largely centered around the great outdoors. He enjoyed sailing, hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and adventure motorcycling.
“When a person like James passes, it’s a real gut-wrenching thing,” said Willis. “It’s hit a lot of people very hard.”
Clayton is survived by his wife, Lee Eng Khauv; his sister, Vivian Clayton; and many friends.
Those wishing to honor his memory can make a donation to Healthcare for the Homeless Fund at the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands. Checks should be made payable to the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands with a memo noting Healthcare for the Homeless, PO Box 11790, St. Thomas, VI 00801, 340-774-6031, or online at www.cfvi.net.