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Dr. Joseph Frederick Ralston, Jr.

April 25, 1954 - April 1, 2020
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Dr. Joseph Frederick Ralston, Jr., 65, of Fayetteville, TN, passed away at home on April 1. He was born on April 25, 1954 in Fayetteville to Fred and Clara Ralston. From a young age Fred was busy and engaged delivering newspapers on his bicycle. Later, during high school years, at the Philips Academy in Andover, MA, he started a business for the filling and delivery of magazine subscriptions and had a summer internship in the US Senate. After graduating from Andover, he moved on to receive a B.A. in political science from Yale University. During these years he co-chaired the Yale Political Union, a debate society and central forum for political discussion and activism at Yale. In the middle of his senior year, having fulfilled all requirements, he returned home to Fayetteville when his father passed away. He chose to assist his mother with the family-owned funeral chapel rather than staying in New Haven for one last semester of revelry. His dedication to family and sense of duty was strong. As a young man, Fred had worked with his father, a former US Navy Corpsman, and had accompanied him on ambulance calls.

In 1980 Dr. Ralston received his M.D. from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine and began a three-year residency in Internal Medicine at Baptist Hospital in Memphis. Following his residency he returned to his hometown, where he worked at Fayetteville Medical Associates for thirty-seven years until his death. He loved the long-term relationships he had with patients, for whom he advocated in his many roles in professional organizations.

He was Master, American College of Physicians; Chair, Board of Governors, ACP; and President Emeritus, ACP, the largest medical-specialty organization and second-largest physician group in the United States. He also served in several Tennessee Medical Association leadership roles, including board chairman. He served on the Board of Elders at First Presbyterian Church. He was especially talented with parliamentary procedure. He was one of twenty-five Master Physicians from across the United States to be inducted into The Royal College of Physicians, London. He was also a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, an Honorary Fellow of the Indian College of Physicians and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Closer to home, he received the Laureate Award as Outstanding Internist from the Tennessee Chapter of ACP.

Dr. Ralston’s multi-tasking talents enabled him to eat lunch while juggling conference calls and media interviews. His workday never ended. It was common for him to work on patient charts and medically-related responsibilities for several hours at the end of the day. He read medical journals between heats at his sons’ swim meets. He never wasted time having a tidy study.

The talented nurses, staff, and partners at Fayetteville Medical Associates created a community that was especially meaningful for Dr. Ralston. He was also nurtured by friends at First Presbyterian Church, TMA, ACP, and especially by longtime friend Ray Fraley, with whom he shared a love of books, history, and sports.

Dr. Ralston was a devoted father to his twin sons, now year-three medical students and aspiring internal medicine doctors at his alma mater. His pride in and love for them was boundless. They shared a love of baseball, and he treated them to Braves games on many of their birthdays. When ACP duties required that he travel far and wide, his children were able to come along. These travels with him are among their best memories. He is survived by his children, James David Ralston of Memphis, Willis Farris Ralston of Memphis; his sister Susan Ralston McLean of Rainier, WA; his brother-in-law Arthur McLean of Dallas; his nephew Alexander McLean of Dallas; twelve first cousins; his partner Michele Matthews and her son Cade.

In his maternal line he was predeceased by his mother, Clara Belle Robertson Wolfhard of Fayetteville; his grandparents, James Herbert and Lilla Belle Young Robertson of Winston Salem, NC; his uncles, Winfred Robertson, Edwin Robertson and James Robertson, all of NC; and his aunt, Elizabeth Stamper, also of NC. In his paternal line he was predeceased by his father Joseph Frederick Ralston of Fayetteville; his grandparents, James David and Jessie Jones Ralston of Fayetteville; and his aunt, Josephine Ralston Binns (aka Penn) of Nashville. He was also predeceased by his sister Clare Chapman Ralston of Frankewing, TN and his ‘adopted brother’ Howell Lynch of New Orleans.

Due to the current health climate the visitation, burial, and celebration of his life will be held at a later date, to be determined. The family invites you to share memories at

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to First Presbyterian Church’s Ministerial Fund, P.O. Box 472, Fayetteville, TN 37334, The Good Samaritan (food ministry), 208 Davidson St. West, Fayetteville, TN 37334, or a charity of your choice.

Higgins Funeral Home is honored to be serving the family of Dr. Joseph Frederick Ralston, Jr.


As a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic and concern for the family of Dr. Ralston, services will be private at this time. A public gathering may be scheduled for a later date. To honor social distancing and still allowing our community to support families in their time of need, you can sign the online guestbook at If you do not have access to the internet you may drop a card or condolence off at Higgins Funeral Home.

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