A 'Long Shot' Looks Back

Retired surgeon honored for his dedication to Emory and his communities

By Michelle Valigursky

yarbrough

Ann Borden

HAVE A HEART: Emory Alumni Board President Doug Shipman 95C (from left) and Thomas Whitesides 52C 55M 57MR present the 2015 Jake’s Golden Heart Award to Sidney Yarbrough III.

Columbus, Georgia, native Sidney Yarbrough III 59C 63M 64MR 67MR 70MR has demonstrated his natural loyalty with decades of dedication to the health of his hometown community, and with service to his alma mater through professional and philanthropic efforts.

His devotion was recognized with the 2015 Judson C. Ward “Jake’s” Golden Heart Award during Commencement weekend.

“I was humbled, for sure, and proud,” Yarbrough says. “I am very honored. Not many people have been thanked like I have been thanked, and that was a beautiful thing.”

Four generations of Yarbrough’s family have ties to the School of Medicine. James DeLamar, grandfather of his wife, Becky Yarbrough, attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons, a forerunner of Emory’s medical school, in 1902–1903. Yarbrough’s father, Sidney Yarbrough Jr., was in the class of 1932 at Atlanta Southern Dental College, which also was affiliated with Emory. Yarbrough’s son, Robert Yarbrough 01M, is an orthopedic surgeon in Cumming.

Yarbrough initially wanted to attend Auburn University, but his plans changed after his father unexpectedly died of a heart attack during the summer between Yarbrough’s junior and senior years of high school. 

“I realized I needed to go to a school that had a medical school. My father was an oral surgeon, he was an Emory alumnus, and I used to go to alumni meetings with him in Columbus. That was my first real exposure to Emory,” he says. “I knew it was going to be a long shot, but I got in at Emory. I went for four years, and I had a scholarship for three of them that made things easier for my family.”

Once at Emory, Yarbrough worked hard to accomplish his goals.

“Somebody told me if you made an A in organic chemistry you’d get into medical school, so I did that. I spent a lot of time studying and a great dedication of effort, but it was worth it,” he says.

Yarbrough and his wife, Becky Yarbrough, married in June 1959 after he graduated from Emory College and she from Huntington College in Montgomery, Alabama, then returned to Emory in the fall for him to enroll at the School of Medicine. Becky Yarbrough worked at the Emory Clinic while her husband earned his medical degree.

After graduating from the School of Medicine, Sidney Yarbrough served in the US Air Force, then returned to Emory for residency training in orthopedic surgery. 

In 1970 the couple returned to Columbus, and Yarbrough opened a private orthopedics practice that he maintained until retiring in 1997.

Both Yarbroughs served on the School of Medicine board of advisers, supporting education, research, development, and advocacy. In 1998, Becky Yarbrough established the Sidney H. Yarbrough III MD Endowed Scholarship in Medicine, the first of the couple’s many philanthropic gifts to the university. The scholarship has helped more than fifteen students pay for medical school.

In 2004, the Yarbroughs sponsored the Emory School of Medicine’s 150th anniversary celebration, and in 2005 they contributed to help name a group-learning room in the James Williams Medical Education Building. Yarbrough also has supported Emory Orthopedics, participates in Emory regional programs, and hosts events in his home for alumni, friends, and prospective students, including Charter Day celebrations to mark the university’s founding. 

As a patron of the arts, Yarbrough serves on the board of advisers for the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory. In Columbus, he serves as a member of the Stewart Community Home Board and is a supporter of the Muscogee County Library Foundation, the Columbus State University Foundation, and First Presbyterian Church of Columbus.

“I always appreciated Emory inviting me to attend medical school, and I toted the load and produced and I didn’t let them down,” he says. “I had four good years of medical school, and I developed a lot of good friends that I have to this day. It was not difficult for me to do what I have done for Emory, and I will keep on doing it. I’ve enjoyed it. They took me on and kept me there and treated me better than right. I’m just paying it back.”

Yarbrough is the seventh recipient of the Jake’s Golden Heart Award, which was established by the Emory Alumni Association in May 2010 to honor alumni who graduated fifty years ago or more.—

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