Dr. James Albert Riley


Dr. James Albert Riley of Edgartown died at home on Oct. 4, 2017, three weeks short of his 91st birthday. He was born in Hilton Village, Va., to Charles B. Riley and Caroline Lamberth.

Raised on a farm in Hampton Roads, Va., he graduated from Hampton High School. Summer employment as an electrician at Newport News Shipyard inspired an interest in physics, which became his course of study at the College of William and Mary. For a brief period between high school and college, he enlisted in the Army Air Force, hoping to learn to fly. He earned the World War II Victory Medal, and was honorably discharged in 1945.

Plans for a trek up the Amazon River with his older brother prompted research into tropical diseases. This adventure did not materialize, but led to matriculation at Yale University School of Medicine. He researched and developed techniques for welding thermocouples for physiological research in the Section of Neuro-Anatomy.

James graduated from Yale School of Medicine in 1951. The day of his graduation, he married Janet Pauline Matz, a graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Nursing. Days later he joined the Navy as a lieutenant JG. The newlyweds packed the car and set off on a honeymoon/cross-country trip to San Diego, Calif., where he completed an internship specializing in surgery at the U.S. Naval Hospital. Upon discharge from the Navy, his interests switched to internal medicine, leading to University Hospital in Chapel Hill, N.C., where he was chief resident. Appointment as a resident in internal medicine at the Boston City Hospital followed.

In 1956, he went into private practice in New Haven, Conn. He was beloved by his patients, and family outings were frequently sidetracked by house calls.

His interests were wide. He cultivated orchids and ferns; painted in oil, winning awards for his seascapes in local art shows; collected and refinished antique furniture; studied geology, collecting rocks and fossils. He applied mechanical aptitude to these passions, building a rock-cutting saw, crafting fine wood furniture by hand, and designing scientific equipment to support his wife’s study of marine biology.

James loved animals, feeding a menagerie of animals, raccoons, deer, opossum, and turkeys at his back door in Woodbridge, Conn., and later, at his Edgartown home, an abundance of ducks, pigeons, and squirrels. He was extremely attached to his beloved cats Nubby, Jeep, and Mr. Jefferson, and a springer spaniel, Zeus, with whom he shared his nightly bowl of ice cream.

Retiring to Edgartown in 2008, James was often seen fly fishing at the crack of dawn on the jetty at the Big Bridge on Sengekontacket Pond. He gave the flies he tied to friends and acquaintances. His love of fishing endures today in his daughter and grandsons.

He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Janet M. Riley of Edgartown; brother and sister-in-law Douglas and Sharon Riley of Durham, N.C.; sister-in-law Martha Riley of California; daughter and son-in-law Carol and Michael Berwind of Edgartown; son James of Arlington; grandsons Dickens and his wife Anele Berwind of Harvard, and David and his wife Courtney Berwind, and great-granddaughter Charlotte, of Duxbury.