CAMP ZAMA, Japan (June 12, 2020) – As Dr. Timothy Russell looked back on his 36-year career at the BG Crawford F. Sams U.S. Army Health Clinic here, he paused for a moment before summing it up in one sentence.
“The travel, the medicine, the people—these are all things that have made life very wonderful for me, and I hope it was reciprocal,” Russell said in an interview about his upcoming retirement in July.
Russell’s coworkers affirm that it was reciprocal: He consistently improved their lives and the lives of his patients over the years.
“His combination of clinical acumen, limitless energy and kind approach to complex cases provided his patients the best of the art and science of health and medicine,” said Lt. Col. Dolores Toney, a family nurse practitioner assigned to U.S. Army Medical Department Activity – Japan and head of the Family Medicine Clinic.
Toney said that during his tenure, Russell served in a multitude of positions and filled many roles.
“He fully understood the service and sacrifices associated with working with the military and just embraced the change,” Toney said. “Throughout the years, Dr. Russell developed outstanding working relationships with our sister services and host-nation hospital, and has been a pillar to this community.”
Russell began working in the clinic in 1984, and the only person he could think of who has worked there as long is volunteer “Mama Yukie” Furukawa, who began working in Camp Zama medical facilities about 75 years ago and began volunteering after 50 years of service.
Furukawa has not been able to volunteer lately because of COVID-19 virus restrictions, but she provided a farewell video for Russell.
“I’m going to miss you so much,” Furukawa said in the video. “… We worked together for so long and I’m going to miss you.”
Furukawa said she hopes to see Russell before he leaves, adding that instead of “goodbye,” she would like to say “so long,” in hopes of seeing him again someday at the clinic.
Russell said one of the reasons he decided to become a doctor was because his father, William Russell, was a doctor and a good role model.
His father was a family physician, and they shortly worked together in the same clinic before his father retired and he moved to Japan, Russell said.
Russell said he moved to Japan because his wife Junko is Japanese, and she started researching ways he could work as a doctor in Japan.
“I didn’t know anything about the civil service system or the military system,” Russell said. “My wife is the investigator. She said, ‘Well, what about these places?’ I guess I sort of vaguely knew there were military bases in Japan, but it didn’t cross my mind as an option.”
Russell said he wrote to a few military bases in Japan and it turned out Camp Zama needed a civilian physician.
He applied, got the job and moved to Camp Zama.
Russell said the people he has met while practicing medicine at Camp Zama will stick with him the most.
“You meet people from all around the world here and it’s a different life from what I grew up with,” said Russell, from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.
When it comes to coworkers, Russell said he has appreciated the opportunity to mentor military medics and doctors.
When young medics first arrive, for example, they often don’t have experience working in a clinic and it’s different from the experience they’ve received during deployments, Russell said.
“It’s always been very interesting to see young Soldiers come in very new to this kind of job, working as medics, and two or three years later they go away and they’re quite experienced,” Russell said.
Toney said Russell’s mentoring of young medics in particular has served as the foundation for their continued professional growth and development.
In terms of patients, Russell said he has enjoyed treating Soldiers and getting to know a lot of the local military retirees over the years, as well as helping bring new life into the world through obstetrics and pediatrics.
“That’s a very enjoyable part of medicine because it’s happy,” Russell said, “and then of course you see the kids and take care of them as they go along.”
Russell said he also liked getting to know his Japanese counterparts at local hospitals. But with the introduction of case managers at the clinic, he has not had the opportunity to make as many connections as in the past.
Russell said he and his wife raised three children at Camp Zama, and two of his fondest memories are of traveling to Alaska and Australia with the Boy Scouts.
Japan has been a great jumping off point for traveling, Russell said, and he and his family took advantage of the opportunity to do much of it.
He and his wife plan to move to the western United States after he retires, Russell said, and once they get situated, he may try to keep his hand in medicine.
Because Camp Zama is a military base, there has been a constant transition of people over the years, and he appreciates all the people he has met, Russell said.
“There have been lots of interesting people who kept life fascinating all along,” Russell said. “I hope that continues. There will be new, exciting adventures, I hope, and meeting new people.”
Russell said he hoped to use this story as a way to say goodbye to everyone.
“There are so many people that you don’t see that often, but then you see them once in a while, and I won’t be able to interact with them all at this time,” Russell said. “It’s been a wonderful time here and I’ll miss it.”
Camp Zama will miss him too.
Toney said Russell has always been committed to the highest values and his sole mission has been to advocate for the needs of Camp Zama as a military community.
“We wish to congratulate him and would like to invite the whole community to honor Dr. Russell’s 36 years of dedicated service to providing compassionate care,” Toney said.