Born August 11, 1920 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Dr. Dignam received his AB in 1941 from Dartmouth College and his M.D. in 1943 from Harvard Medical School. He was an intern at Boston City Hospital in 1944 and served as a Lieutenant in the Medical Corps in the United States Naval Reserve from 1945 through 1946. He completed his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Kansas Medical Center in 1950 and while here was a resident in Endocrinology at Duke University. In 1951 he was appointed as an Instructor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California Medical School at San Francisco
Following his military service, he returned to the University In 1953, Dr. Dignam was invited to join the faculty in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California Medical School in Los Angeles as an Assistant Professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1959 and to full Professor in 1966. He retired and was appointed as Emeritus Professor in 1991.
Known for his compassion, graceful and kind interaction with patients, students, staff and faculty, Dr. Dignam was a dedicated clinician. He was devoted to his patients and estimated that he had been the attending physician at 30,000 births. One of his great passions, and a particular focus of his work after attaining emeritus status in 1991, was medical student and resident education. He served as a role model to many students and residents and faculty. Many of his trainees have gone on to assume positions as department chairs.
One of the founding members of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr. Dignam joined the UCLA faculty in 1953 and served as Acting Chairman of the Department on numerous occasions. He provided leadership to the department and to the university in many capacities including Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs for the School of Medicine, Chair of the Academic Senate, Chair of the Committee on Academic Personnel, Chair of the Hospital Bylaws Committee, Chair of the Planning and Budget Committee and Chair of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Student Clerkship Committee. Dr. Dignam was also a research associate at the University of Geneva, a visiting professor at Universite Rene Descartes in Paris, France and at the University of London.
Dr. Dignam also held leadership positions in many national organizations. He was President and then Chairman of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, President of the Pacific Coast Obstetrical and Gynecological Society, Executive Chairman of the Board of Medical Specialties, President of the Los Angeles Obstetrical and Gynecology Society, and President of the American Gynecological and Obstetrical Society. Dr. Dignam was the humble recipient of numerous international honors including Honorary President of the Society of Gynecology of France, Consultant to the Royal Australian College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Fellow ad eundem of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and Charter Day Speaker at the National Maternity Center in Dublin, Ireland.
Dr. Dignam's contributions to our community were widely acknowledged through the years, as is evident from the many awards that he received. In 2002 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Pacific Coast Obstetrical and Gynecological Society. He was honored in 2002 with the Excellence in Education Award bestowed by the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. In 2005, he received the prestigious ICON Award from the UCLA Center on Aging. The UCLA Medical Alumni Association & Aesculapian Awards awarded him the Distinguished Service Award in 2002. This award recognizes individuals for distinguished service to the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and its affiliated institutions over a span of years. The Association also lauded Dr. Dignam with the Award of Extraordinary Merit in 1991 in recognition for contributions over a span of years that have been of unusually great benefit to the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, either directly or by enhancing its reputation of the School through major advances in the biomedical field as a whole. The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology recognized Dr. Dignam.s many achievements in medical education with the Award for Teaching and Mentoring in 2005 and also honored him with the creation of the .William J. Dignam. Award for Excellence in Obstetrics and Gynecology to be bestowed annually on the most outstanding graduating medical student.
Dr. Dignam is survived by his wife Winifred Kennedy Dignam, his two sisters, Lenore Macartney and Margaret Donovan, his four daughters, Brett Dignam, Kevan Husky, Erin Dignam, and Meighan Garnsey and fourteen grandchildren. The family requests donations be made to the UCLA Foundation for the William J. Dignam Memorial Fund, David Geffen School of Medicine, 10945 Le Conte Avenue, Suite 3132, Los Angeles, California 90095. in order to establish a Chair in his honor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
DIGNAM is a regional variant of the name Duigenan. The surname is the anglicized form of the Irish sept name "O Duibhgeannain," the root word "dubh" meaning "black." This is the surname of one of the most important learned families in medieval Ireland. They were located in east Connaught and members of the family were bards and ollavs to many of the leading septs in the area. During the Middle Ages, the bard was the local poet and storyteller; he was responsible for the entertainment of local septs and this was a position of great importance. An ollav was simply a learned man who was master in some branch of learning.
The principal residence of this family was in Kilronan in County Roscomm0n. They were erenaghs (hereditary lay-abbots) of the local monastery and they had a bardic school in County Leitrim.
Peregrine O'Duigenan (d. 1664) was one of the Four Masters who compiled a history of Ireland which is one of the most important records of the medieval period. Magnus O.Duigenan was the compiler of the Book of Ballymote and the family also produced a "Book of the O'Duigenans."