Dr. James Clayton Metts, Jr., died Monday, January 20th, at his home. He was 88 years old.
Dr. James Clayton Metts, Jr., was born on June 27, 1931, in Savannah to Dr. and Mrs. James Clayton Metts, Sr. His early years were spent in Savannah, at their home in Gordonston. He attended kindergarten at The Pape School where he met his life-long friend, Sonny Seiler. Dr. Metts’ elementary years were spent at military and Jesuit schools in Mississippi and Louisiana where his father was serving as a Lt. Col. in the Army during WWII.
Dr. Metts prepped at the St. Andrews School in Delaware where he rowed with a crew team that qualified for the London 1948 Summer Olympics. His undergraduate studies were at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Dr. Metts graduated from the Medical College of Georgia in 1955 and was matched to an internship at Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago. Afterward, he moved to West Palm Beach to serve two years in the Air Force. During that time, he learned to scuba dive; something that became a life-long passion. Dr. Metts was privileged to complete a two-year residency with the renowned Dr. Robert Greenblatt in Augusta, who was a pioneer in the field of Endocrinology.
In 1961, Dr. Metts returned to his beloved Savannah and entered private practice of internal medicine with his father at his West Gaston Street office. Since they were both “Dr. Metts”, most people in the medical community referred to them as “Junior” or “Senior”. Dr. Metts’ keen intellect made him a brilliant diagnostician. He was known for his caring attitude and taking his time with his patients.
His care extended to the community, as well. When a 1961 study found that Savannah had the highest stroke rate in the nation, Dr. Metts and Dr. John Elliott founded the Community Cardiovascular Council (CCC) to provide free health screenings and stroke prevention services to Chatham County residents. The CCC was responsible for significantly reducing the stroke rate in Chatham County. Because of his work with the CCC, Dr. Metts was honored as WTOC’s Hometown Hero in 2009, presented the Monarch Award by the Savannah Lion’s club and was twice honored by the Georgia State Legislature.
Dr. Metts led several medical missions to the remote mountains of Spanish Honduras during the 1970s. When word spread that a medical team was present, locals would walk for days carrying the sick to reach them. During the 1980s, he led medical missions to Haiti for many years. He was grateful to the countless professionals who went on these missions with him and the medical companies that donated desperately needed supplies.
Dr. Metts was the Chatham County Coroner for 40 years from 1972 – 2014. His combination of extensive medical knowledge, detailed observations and logic made him a natural fit for the job. Many a night, he would get out of bed to go investigate a coroner’s call. One night in 1981 he was roused from bed to investigate a fatal shooting at antique dealer Jim Williams’ home. Dr. Metts’ analysis of the crime scene and hypothesis of what had transpired was featured in the “Civic Duty” chapter of Jon Berendt’s book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil.”
In 1995, the Polish community asked Dr. Metts to verify that the remains buried under the Pulaski Monument were indeed those of Revolutionary War hero, Count Casimir Pulaski. The wounds visible on the skeletal remains matched accounts of Pulaski’s demise. However, despite traveling to Poland to exhume Pulaski’s great-grandniece, he was unable to obtain a DNA match. Years later advances in DNA technology provided a positive match.
Dr. Metts was an active member of many civic organizations including The Rotary Club of Savannah and The German Heritage Society.
Always in motion, Dr. Metts was an avid outdoorsman. He loved hunting birds and deer, deep-sea fishing and scuba diving. Some of his fondest memories were of hunting at Sarah and Walter Baxter’s land in South Carolina. Their hospitality was boundless and he cherished their friendship.
Dr. Metts never shied away from trying something new. Like his father, he had an inquisitive nature and love of learning. When most people would evacuate to higher ground during a hurricane, Dr. Metts would drive out to Tybee Island to experience it. He loved to talk to people and swap stories. He was a skilled story-teller, something he learned from hanging out on the porch at his grandparents’ farm in Greenwood, SC.
Dr. Metts is survived by his wife, Paula, and six children: Beth Metts Vaughn (James) of Forsyth, James Clayton Metts III (Pam) of Savannah, Sandra Metts of Athens, Lynn Metts Oelkers (Galen) of Atlanta, Holly Metts Pace (Robbie) of Savannah, and Victoria Perrin Metts (Kyle Cutting) of Savannah. Dr. Metts is survived by his sister, Ruth Metts Wright (Winter) of Savannah. He is also survived by 16 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and several nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his great-grandson, Tristan James Mitchell.
Dr. Metts was blessed with a long life filled with adventure and accomplishments. He touched the lives of many people and will be greatly missed.
The family will receive friends from 11 to 1 o’clock Saturday, February 1, 2020 at Gamble Funeral Service – 410 Stephenson Avenue. There will be a short service in the funeral home chapel honoring Dr. Metts immediately following the visitation.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the St. Joseph’s/Candler Foundations, Heart & Lung Building, 5356 Reynolds Street, Suite 400, Savannah, GA 31405.