When the University of Kansas basketball team returns to the NCAA tournament this month, some attention will naturally fall on its iconic mascot, the Jayhawk. And a multitalented Butler County native deserves some of the credit.
Dr. Gene “Yogi” Williams, who grew up in El Dorado, drew the modern version of the mascot while attending KU as an art-loving undergraduate in the 1940s. The mythical bird had appeared in the school’s student newspaper and other publications since at least the early 1900s. But Williams is credited with creating the body shape – especially the big, open beak and squatter body – still in use today. The only difference is that Williams’ Jayhawk wore a “perky, contemptuous” expression, “with an appearance of becoming tough if bothered,” according to one description. It became known as the “fighting Jayhawk.” A smiling Jayhawk was adopted by the late 1940s.
Williams wasn’t done, either. After serving in World War II and then entering KU medical school in 1950, he started drawing the Jayhawk with stethoscope and doctor’s bag. That evolved into “JayDoc,” unofficial mascot of the medical school. The KU Wichita medical campus last year installed a 6-foot-tall version of JayDoc in its library.
After completing his residency in Kansas City, Williams practiced in Phoenix, specializing in diseases of the ear, nose and throat. He returned to El Dorado in 1970 following a heart attack. There Williams explored numerous artistic mediums, from oils and wood carving to acrylics and blacksmithing, while continuing to practice medicine. He died in a hot air balloon accident near Towanda in 1979.
A version of this article originally appeared on the KU Wichita website, kumc.edu. It is used here with permission.