Posted on: December 14, 2020
William Martin Womack was born in Lynchburg, Virginia on June 14, 1936 to Fannie Smith, a teacher, and Samuel Womack, a school principal. At the age of 5 he announced he wanted to be a doctor. Bill was an avid reader and excelled in academics. He graduated Valedictorian of both his high school class at age 15, and his Lincoln University class at age 19.
The 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling ended racial segregation in public schools, allowing his admittance in 1957 to the University of Virginia (UVA) Medical School. He was one of the first African American medical students to attend UVA. Despite major challenges due to racism, he made the Dean’s List and received his medical degree in 1961 at the age of 25.
After graduating, Bill was accepted into the University of Washington (UW) Medical School residency program and moved to Seattle. There he met a young French-Canadian nurse, Mariette Poirier, whom he married in 1965. After his psychiatry residency he joined the Navy and was stationed in Guam for 2 years during the Vietnam War. In 1969 he became the first African American to join the UW Department of Psychiatry faculty. He and Mariette adopted their only child, Lisette, in 1970.
Bill had a remarkable career in child psychiatry that included work for the University of Washington, Harborview Medical Center, Echo Glen Children’s Center, Seattle Children’s Hospital and Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic. Bill served as Division Chief for Psychiatry at both Harborview and Seattle Children’s. He was a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, a longtime member of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and a co-founder of the Lesbian and Gay Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Association (LAGCAPA). He also was involved in revising and updating the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, resulting in the Fifth Edition (DSM-5) published in 2013.
Bill co-founded the Biofeedback and Stress Management Clinic at Seattle Children’s with colleague and good friend Dr. Mark Scott Smith, using relaxation and mental imagery techniques to help kids manage pain and health crises. He was well respected for his work at Echo Glen, a juvenile detention facility, where he bridged the gap between community psychiatry and juvenile justice. Bill also helped to advance LGBTQ issues in child psychiatry on a national scale. He was particularly proud of his work with LAGCAPA and his role as co-founder. Over the years, Bill helped countless individuals and families, and made a lasting impact in his field.
Along with his professional accomplishments, Bill was a skilled cook, avid wine connoisseur and world traveler. He especially enjoyed frequent trips to New York City, where he would attend several shows on Broadway. He loved jazz, seeing many of the greats on stage. He also loved sharing great meals with great company. He was known for his patience, kindness, generosity – and his unforgettable laugh.
Bill was a strong supporter of the local arts scene. Some of his favorite organizations were ACT (he served on the board for many years), the Seattle Men’s Chorus, and the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra. We’ve included these and more on the list of his favorite causes and organizations.
After retirement, Bill continued to work as a consultant until 2015 when he moved into the Horizon House retirement community. Despite health challenges, he enjoyed visiting with family and friends, going to restaurants and shows, and taking trips with his daughter to Brazil, France, Portugal and the Caribbean.
Bill died peacefully of natural causes at Swedish Hospital on November 29, 2020 and was cremated on December 8. He is survived and greatly missed by his daughter Lisette Austin, son-in-law Will, grandson Zane, cousin Marshall McDonald, former wife Mariette, extended family, and countless friends and colleagues.
A celebration of Bill’s life will be held in Seattle on June 12, 2021.
View a tribute site created by Dr. Womack’s daughter, including photos, his legacy and causes he supported, here.