Dr. J. Crayton Pruitt, a surgical innovator who gave millions to Florida colleges, died Saturday.
Published Oct. 10, 2011

After suffering a heart attack more than 15 years ago and undergoing a transplant at Shands at the University of Florida, Dr. J. Crayton Pruitt showed his gratitude by donating millions to the college.

And then the St. Petersburg physician, known for his innovative surgical inventions, gave even more.

"Dr. Pruitt's contributions have been spectacular and will change the world," said Bruce DeLany, an assistant vice president for the University of Florida Foundation. "He was a very special person."

Dr. Pruitt, 79, died Saturday at Bayfront Medical Center from a heart attack, his family said.

In 2000, Dr. Pruitt, a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon, donated $2 million to the Gainesville college's biomedical engineering graduate program.

He had suffered a heart attack at his St. Petersburg home in 1995, and was flown to the Shands hospital there for a transplant.

In 2006, he donated another $10 million to the UF Department of Biomedical Engineering, which is now called the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering.

And he gave closer to home.

In 2009, Dr. Pruitt donated $2.8 million worth of land to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. The gift will go toward construction of a ceramic arts and sculpture facility, and the building will be named in honor of Dr. Pruitt.

"The Pruitt Center is all we are calling it right now," said Matthew Bisset, who oversees development and alumni relations at Eckerd. "But he didn't have that type of ego where the name mattered. He was just a generous man and wanted the college to have the money. The gift is extremely important to all of our arts programs."

Dr. Pruitt was born Nov. 23, 1931. He was raised in Anderson, S.C., and earned a bachelor's degree and his medical degree at Emory University. After completing his residency in thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at the North Carolina Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C., he came to St. Petersburg in 1963.

"He was probably the busiest general and vascular surgeon in St. Petersburg," said oldest son Dr. J. Crayton Pruitt Jr., who is a heart surgeon. "But he was also very innovative."

The elder Dr. Pruitt invented two medical devices that are popular today, his family said.

The Pruitt-Inahara shunt allows blood to the brain while arteries are being cleaned. He also invented an irrigation embolectomy catheter that flushes out blood clots and arteries in the lower extremities.

Dr. Pruitt wrote the book A Crusade for Stroke Prevention and family members said he was determined to reduce the number of strokes suffered by people.

"He was a very good man," his son said. "He was a fun-loving person and enjoyed great friendships that were long-term friendships. He was creative and a hard worker."

Pruitt said that his father took a liking to purchasing Florida land in rural areas.

Early in his practice, Dr. Pruitt used any income not going to bills to purchase land, his son said. Dr. Pruitt accumulated close to 100,000 acres.

Several years ago, the doctor proposed building a hotel, condominium and marina complex in Taylor County in the Big Bend region. But in the face of opposition, he scaled back theproposal.

A daughter, Helen Wallace, who is married to former state House Speaker Peter Rudy Wallace, said her father was a visionary with "a huge heart for the underdog."

Wallace remembers as a child that her father performed surgery on a man who could not afford to pay. The man was a fisherman, so he would regularly bring fish to their home.

"Dad didn't ask him for that, but the (fisherman) was a proud man who wanted to pay his bills and Dad respected that," she said. "He is going to be missed. He reached a lot of people.

"I feel incredibly lucky for having his influence on me and my children and he left a real mark on all of us."

Contact Demorris A. Lee at and (727) 445-4174.

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Dr. J. Crayton Pruitt Sr.

Born: Nov. 23, 1931

Died: Oct. 8, 2011

Survivors: Divorced; son Dr. J. Crayton Pruitt Jr.; daughters Helen Wallace and Natalie Judge; five grandchildren; and one great grandchild. Preceded in death by son Mark, who died in a 1985 plane crash.

Services: Funeral Sunday at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter, 140 Fourth St. N, time to be determined. Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home.