Died: May 10, 1990
Married: Mary Bernice Townsend
Walker Percy was best known for his philosophical novels set in and around New Orleans, Louisiana, the first of which, The Moviegoer, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1962. His work displays a combination of existential questioning, Southern sensibility, and deep Catholic faith. He was a close friend of Shelby Foote.
Percy received his medical degree from Columbia University in 1941. He contracted tuberculosis apparently while performing an autopsy during his internship at Bellevue Hospital Center. He cured for a time at Smithwick Cottage, and he spent two years recuperating at James Memorial Staff Building at the Trudeau Sanatorium. While there, Percy became friends with New York Giant second baseman Larry Doyle, who was also admitted to the "san" in 1942; the two talked baseball for hours. A visitor was Shelby Foote, a friend from high school.
James Memorial was a residence for patients who were also doctors. A biography describes Walker Percy's stay there: "In the spring of 1943, Percy moved into an "up" cottage [common usage for a cottage for ambulatory patients]. Officially called James but generally referred to as the 'doctors' cottage,' it was home to twelve physicians or medical students, most of whom were in sufficiently good health to assume limited medical responsibilities around the sanitorium [sic]. Typically, the doctors of James went on rounds, worked in the X-ray clinic, assisted with the occasional surgery, or even did clinical or research work in the laboratories. . . . James was considered a choice cottage. It was lively, on occasions even raucous. Talk was often medical—there were weekly discussion groups that focused on cases written up in The New England Journal of Medicine." 1
In "Percy's Back Pages," an article in Adirondack Life, November/December 2001, Elizabeth Folwell discusses Walker Percy's unpublished novel set in curing days in Saranac Lake. Titled The Gramercy Winner, it will apparently remain forever unpublished, readable only in manuscript form in the collection of the University of North Carolina.
1. Jay Tolson, Pilgrim in the Ruins: A Life of Walker Percy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 175.