Watercolor based on the 1950s Paul R. Williams' concept drawing, Terry DeWitt, 2010
1962, Memphis, Tennessee
Paul R. Williams designed the original St. Jude Hospital for his friend Danny Thomas.
In a time of desperation, Thomas prayed to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes, for guidance. By 1950, he was a stage and film star, and soon the television sitcom, “Make Room for Daddy,” would make him one of America’s most beloved entertainers. Honoring his debt to St. Jude, Thomas decided to build a charitable hospital in the South. In 1951, Jet magazine reported that Paul R. Williams would donate his services to the cause.
The hospital’s mission came to focus on cures for catastrophic pediatric illness and treatment for children of all races, religions, nationalities and economic circumstances. The Memphis location, recommended by Thomas’ religious advisor, was selected when the city’s business leaders warmly embraced the idea.
Paul R. Williams had a family connection to Memphis. His parents, Chester and Lila Williams, lived in Memphis, where Chester was a waiter at the Peabody Hotel and partner in a Beale Street confectionary, before moving to Los Angeles in 1893. Born in 1894, Paul was orphaned in 1898 and raised by foster parents.
Opened in 1962, the original building was a victim of St. Jude’s success. Today the St. Jude complex includes no vestige of Williams’ design.
For more about St. Jude Children's Research Hospital