Byrd family portrait

Flight pattern: How a family of Byrds built their careers in medicine

J. Abbott Byrd III, M.D. (M.D.’78), learned about the power of medicine as a child. His father ran a private practice in Norfolk and his mother was a registered nurse. Abbott remembers going on house calls with his father and being instructed on how to answer the phone if a patient called.

“During the summer when my dad was on call, we would sit on the front porch with the door propped open so that he could hear the phone ringing,” he says, laughing.

Abbott’s parents — John Byrd Jr., M.D. (M.D.’47; H.S.’47), and Louauna Byrd (Cert.’48) — attended the Medical College of Virginia, a precursor to VCU, and Abbott followed them by studying at the VCU School of Medicine. He practiced orthopaedic surgery for more than three decades at Atlantic Orthopaedic Specialists in Virginia Beach, co-inventing a new type of screw device used during surgery to treat spinal deformity and inventing a spinal cage used to treat pain from disc damage.

“He became known around the region as the person to go to if you had a spinal problem that nobody else could fix,” says his wife, Allison Byrd, M.D. (M.D.’78).

Her family has a history of healing, too. Allison’s great-grandfather was a country physician in North Carolina, “back when doctors used to go around on horseback,” she says. Drawn to mathematics and science, Allison studied medicine at VCU, where she met Abbott while shooting hoops on the basketball court at the Larrick Student Center.

Two of  their children, Jennifer Byrd, M.D. (M.D.’13), and Will Byrd, M.D. (M.D.’13), also attended VCU. Though Abbott’s schedule was hectic while they were growing up, Jennifer and Will enjoyed watching their father work. “We loved going to the hospital and meeting his patients,” Jennifer says. “It was just part of our normal everyday life, and we understood that that’s what it takes to be a good doctor. You have to be available 24-7.”

The siblings attended Princeton University; Will majored in ecology and evolutionary biology and Jennifer in economics. They were captains of their respective track and field teams, and Jennifer still holds the Princeton record in the indoor long jump. She worked in financial consulting after graduation, but the job left her drained and unfulfilled. “If I was going to work long hours, I wanted to be helping people on an individual level,” she says. “I grew up watching my parents make a daily difference in people’s lives.”

Inspired by both her father’s career and her time as a college athlete, Jennifer decided to pursue a career in orthopaedic sports medicine. Will, meanwhile, focuses on total joint replacements.

“I don’t know that I would have pursued medicine if it weren’t for orthopaedics,” Will says. “I’m drawn to carpentry — I grew up helping [my dad] with weekend projects and working with my hands. So, for me, the hands-on nature of orthopaedic surgery is perfect.”

In 2019, he and Jennifer joined Abbott at Atlantic Orthopaedic Specialists. Their sister, Catherine Byrd, is an attorney who also works in Virginia Beach. Each sibling is married — Will to fellow VCU School of Medicine graduate Rachel Byrd, M.D. (M.D.’14), a dermatologist — and have eight children among them.

“We’re very proud of our children and all that they’ve accomplished,” Abbott says. “They each have a great future ahead of them.”

In 2014, Abbott and Allison endowed the Allison D. and J. Abbott Byrd III Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery at VCU. The position, held by Gregory J. Golladay, M.D., in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, enhances research and academic achievement in orthopaedic surgery specialties.

“The medical campus has been blessed with extraordinary faculty who instill knowledge in students that go on to support the community,” Allison says. “Knowledge can’t progress without resources, so it is critical to advance funds. Giving back was our way of helping.”

Jennifer and Will share their parents’ strong connection with the MCV Campus.

“The university has shaped us as a family,” Jennifer says. “It’s allowed us to care for the community, and it’s fulfilled us professionally and personally. And who knows — maybe the next generation will carry on the tradition.”