Dr. William (Bill) 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 as valedictorian of both his high school class at age 16, and his Lincoln University class at age 20.
At Lincoln he was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity (the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African American men, founded in 1906). He sang in the Glee Club, performed in plays and was part of the chemistry and philosophy clubs. He was named "Most Likely to Succeed" and also earned the title "Mr. Lincoln" for his academic success and charismatic personality.
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, a UVA faculty member encouraged him to apply for residency at the University of Washington (UW). Bill was accepted into the UW Medical School residency program as one of the first and only African-American trainees, 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 as the senior psychiatrist at the naval hospital. He later had an assignment at Treasure Island in San Francisco, and attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander. 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 pioneer in juvenile justice, the needs of homeless youth, and the rights and care of LGBTQ youth and adults.
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. Over the years, Bill helped countless Seattle area individuals and families, and made a lasting impact in his field.
Bill was a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, as well as a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He was actively involved in revising and updating the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, resulting in the Fifth Edition (DSM-5) published in 2013.
Bill also helped to advance LGBTQ issues in child psychiatry on a national scale. He was a member of the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists (AGLP) and co-founder of the Lesbian and Gay Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Association (LAGCAPA), now known as Pride CAPA. He was particularly proud of his work with this groundbreaking organization, serving as President and holding various officer positions over the years. In a tribute to Bill's work, the organization stated that "he was a true pioneer - someone whose bright smile and infectious laugh made all who encountered him feel welcome and included. Dr. Womack's contributions made the lives of LGBTQ youth better through his brave advocacy within AACAP, during a time when gender/sexuality/LGBTQ issues were still not a part of mainstream thinking within the profession."
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 (was on the Board of Trustees for many years), the Seattle Men's Chorus (served on the Board of Directors), and the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra. We've included these and more on the list of his favorite causes and organizations.
Bill officially retired in 2007 and became Professor Emeritus of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Washington. 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 in August 2021.
William Martin Womack, MD
Born June 14th, 1936
Child Psychiatrist, Academic, Professor, Pioneer, Mentor, Wine Connoisseur,
Skilled Cook, World Traveler, Beloved Father, Esteemed Colleague, Dear Friend.
Left us on November 29, 2020
His kind heart, patience, generosity, humor, friendship and infectious laugh are deeply missed. He will forever be in our hearts.
Learn more about Bill:
- Horizon House Resident Spotlight:
Dr. William Womack’s Life Story
- ParentMap 2013 Superheroes
University of Virginia Interview (Video)
Desegrating UVA - Interviews with Alumni about a Ground Breaking Era (Video)
Bill is at minute 2:30, 5:30 and 6:37
Tribute video by Lisette Austin.