Dr. James Babbitt Hastings


Dr. James Babbitt Hastings died peacefully at home on September 4, 2022, surrounded by loving family.

Born on September 20, 1927, Jim spent his formative years in Montclair, NJ, getting in and out of the usual scrapes. Much of this energy was luckily directed at the Boy Scouts, where he earned his Eagle award, and as a leader at Camp Dudley in the Adirondacks. Both of these organizations fostered his lifelong love of the outdoors and remained near and dear to his heart. Graduating from high school in 1945, he attended Haverford College for a year before joining the Navy, serving two years as a radar technician on destroyers where he learned to love the sea, loud noises and vacuum tubes. Returning to Haverford, he graduated early in 1950 with a degree in Electrical Engineering, which he immediately squandered by enrolling in the surgery program at Columbia Presbyterian College of Physicians and Surgeons. There he met nursing student Margaret (Peg) Ross. They married in 1954 after graduation, and moved to Cooperstown, NY, where he did his internship and residency at Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital, training in general surgery and producing three children. At the prompting of Dr. Benjamin Wright, his good friend from Columbia, Jim joined Princeton Medical Group and moved his young family to Princeton, NJ, in 1959 and added a fourth child, much to the glee of his older sister.

He grew up sailing small boats on a lake in the Poconos but loved sailboats of every kind. He twice served as navigator in races from Newport to Bermuda, and skippered chartered sailboats with friends and family all over the Caribbean. After graduating from Haverford, he spent three summers volunteering for the Grenfell Mission, first sailing on a hospital ship along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, installing radio transmitters at remote nursing stations, and then assisting in surgery at the hospital at Saint Anthony, Newfoundland. This early experience of mission work informed the rest of his days. He was always generous with his time and resources to charitable organizations, most memorably volunteering as surgeon for the Indian Health Services in Fort Defiance, AZ, working with Navajo healers.

His tenor voice was heard in school, college, Navy, and medical school choirs, and for 50 years in the choir at Nassau Presbyterian Church, where he also served several times as elder. His love of Gilbert and Sullivan was apt to overtake him at inopportune times, but generally this was tolerated. His voice also narrates many medical texts available through Recording For the Blind and Dyslexic, where he and Peg volunteered for many years.

He designed and ran the first mass screening program for colo-rectal cancer, earning him honors as AMA Doctor of the Year in 1973 (New Jersey), and served for many years on various local, state and national cancer task forces and committees. He served on the American Cancer Society National Task Force on Colo-rectal Cancer for ten years, on the county medical society for 15 years and as delegate to the Medical Society of NJ. He chaired the section of general surgery at the Medical Center at Princeton for eight years and taught as Clinical Assistant Professor at Rutgers Medical School until 1998. Princeton Medical Group had eight MDs when he started, and 23 when he retired. The Medical Center at Princeton grew from 64 MDs to more than 500 before he retired in 1994. He continued his contributions to his profession, participating in the hospital Tumor Board well after retirement.

Family and community were central to Jim and Peg’s life together. They raised their four children in Princeton, enjoying summers camping across the country, spending time (and playing a lot of ruthless bridge) at Jim’s family vacation home at Lake Paupac in the Poconos and gathering and hiking with Peg’s extended family at Rivermede, their farm in the Adirondacks. He was very proud of his children’s accomplishments, but even more so of their love for each other. Jim and Peg consider that their lives’ greatest achievement.

He is predeceased by his parents, Evelyn (Babbitt) and Alan Hastings, and his sister Elizabeth (Betty). He is survived by his wife, Peg, and children, Nancy (and Jerry) Zatzman, Alan (and Teresa Davis), Robert (and Fritz Sabbow) and Nick (and Kim Mrazek); and grandchildren, Josh Zatzman, Sam Hastings, Julianne Hastings, Noah Hastings, Caleb Hastings and Nina Hastings. A memorial service is planned for Saturday, November 5th at 1:30 p.m. at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton.

In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in Jim’s memory to Princeton Medical Center Foundation (https://www.princetonhcs.org/princeton-medical-center-foundation), Learning Ally (https://learningally.org/) formerly known as Recording For the Blind and Dyslexic, or Arm In Arm (www.the crisis ministry.org).