Dr. James Albert Riley of Edgartown died at home on Oct. 4, 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 neuroanatomy.
He 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 junior grade. 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. Beloved by his patients, family outings were frequently side tracked by house calls.
His interests were wide. He cultivated orchids and ferns; painted in oil, winning awards for his seascapes in local arts shows; collected and refinished antique furniture; and 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.
He loved animals, feeding a menagerie of animals like 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, he 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; grandson Dickens Berwind and his wife Anele of Harvard, and grandson David Berwind, his wife Courtney, and great-granddaughter Charlotte of Duxbury.