James Watts, a first-year in the Columbia-Bassett Medical School Program, died on Friday, administrators announced in an email Sunday.
He died in a rock climbing accident, according to the email. He was 24.
Watts, who was from Boise, Idaho, went by Jimmy with his friends at Columbia. Friends described him as “quietly brilliant,” “incredibly modest,” and “passionate about life.”
The Columbia-Bassett program consists of 10 students per class who focus on a “longitudinal and patient-centered approach to medical education, and learn about health systems and health delivery in an integrated hospital network,” according to the program’s website.
David Droullard, another Columbia-Bassett first-year and one of Watts’ close friends, said the group “relationship is like that of a family” thanks to its small size.
“Losing Jimmy really is like losing my brother,” he said.
“Jimmy had really strong convictions to God, to service, and to medicine,” Watt’s friend Sam Porter, another student in the Columbia-Bassett program, said. “He was always defining his convictions, rationalizing, and being skeptical.”
Watts and his wife Cassidy were involved in their church community, and Watts and Porter often read biblical literature together.
“He loved the pursuit of pure truth, of pure good—that was what he was,” Porter said. “Jimmy’s convictions to his ideals drove him to accomplish what he did, and that’s something I can aspire to.”
Droullard agreed, adding that he felt impressed by everything his friend did.
“Despite abundant evidence for him being better than you, he would never let you feel that way,” Droullard said.
Maeve O’Neill, another classmate and friend, said that she would remember Watts’ generosity and “his spirit and his love for life.”
“He made you feel so welcome in his house and in his life,” she said. “He really wanted to serve underserved populations.”
“I hope I can be as good of a person as he was,” she said.
Watts also loved the outdoors, and was an avid rock climber and mountaineer.
“We went on a rock climbing trip and an ice climbing trip together,” Droullard said. “I’m not a climber, but he really took me under his wing, taught me how to do stuff, and lent me his gear.”
Droullard added that he “felt a real spirit of kinship with” Watts and that “our motiviations for studying medicine were similar.”
“He cared so deeply about us and about the world and wanted to make it a better place,” Droullard said. “There’s a gap now that he’s gone and we need to step up … We need to be the best doctors we can be because he would have been such a great doctor.”