Deceased June 19, 2007
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Raymond M. "Ray" Wetrich, M.D.
Another Lord Jeff from the Class of ’38 has passed away. Raymond M. Wetrich, MD, my dad, passed away June 19 in a nursing home outside Dallas, TX. He had just turned eighty-nine.
The eldest of three boys, Ray was born in Brooklyn in 1918 and was raised on Long Island. Apparently a rather precocious lad, he skipped two grades in elementary school and was only sixteen when he enrolled at Amherst. While there, he painted a watercolor of Johnson Chapel. He proudly displayed that framed painting in our home. He knew from day one at Amherst that he wanted to be a physician. In his senior year, he was thrilled to be accepted to medical school at the Univ. of Rochester.
Five years later, Ray had earned his MD and had done a year of research. He then completed his internship at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. By that time, WWII was raging, and Uncle Sam needed his new talents. Young Dr. Wetrich enlisted as a first lieutenant in the US Army and soon arrived in Germany with the Second Armored Division. He served fourteen months, patching up wounded soldiers near the front lines. Apparently the carnage he witnessed was horrific because he never spoke about his wartime experiences.
Following the Allied victory, Ray returned to Rochester to complete his residency as a general surgeon. He became friends with Dr. George Hoyt Whipple, who had won the 1934 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. While in Rochester, Ray met Mary Wallace, who was working in one of the hospital offices. They married in 1947. Years later, my aunt used to tell me of all the impressive suitors who dated Mary Wallace before Ray came along. Each time she did, my aunt was just amazed. Later, when I was home, I asked Mom why she had decided to marry Dad instead of any of her previous beaus. She said, “Because your dad was the first man who seemed more interested in me than in himself.” This selflessness was one of the characteristics that made him a great physician, as well as a great husband.
In 1952, Dr. Chester Haug, one of my dad’s surgical colleagues from Rochester, called him from southern California. He convinced Dad to join him at an exciting new medical care facility in California, which later became Kaiser Permanente. So Mom and Dad packed up their 1950 Plymouth coupe, which they affectionately called Black Beauty, and headed out west.
Kaiser was absolutely perfect for Dad. He could practice medicine, and Kaiser took care of all the business aspects of health care. As Dad was never a businessman, this was an ideal arrangement. In fact, throughout his career, Dad, unlike most of his colleagues, never invested in anything other than in his children’s education and in a wonderful home for his family.
Dad went to work seven days a week. He really took his work to heart. One day he came home from the hospital with a prize he had won. The hospital had had a contest to see who was the best diagnostician on the staff. Dad had won. A proud moment for all of us.
In the spring of 1968, Dad brought the family to Amherst, his first trip back since graduation. We all enjoyed his 30th Reunion, and I had a great interview with Dean Wilson. Throughout his career and retirement, Dad faithfully supported both Amherst and the Univ. of Rochester.
Dad had a couple of hobbies. One was growing roses and entering them in shows. He had nearly two hundred rose bushes in the yard. A lampshade in the family room was completely covered, several layers thick, with the ribbons he had won. His other hobby was fly-fishing for steelhead. But he was lucky if he was able to squeeze one fishing trip a year into his busy schedule.
My parents loved entertaining. Their annual Christmas Eve open house was a tradition for many of their friends in Claremont. And they had a bridge group that met for dinner and cards for several years.
I can say without hesitation that my parents were the happiest couple I ever met. (My dear friend and former roommate from Amherst, Dr. James L. Telfer ’73, echoed these sentiments when I spoke with him on the phone a few days ago.) Unfortunately, this wonderful life all ended when my parents both began to suffer from dementia about the time they turned eighty. For a man who saved countless lives in the operating room, it was a bitter irony that there wasn’t a doctor on the planet who could cure his or Mom’s dementia.
Mom died in 2005, ending their fifty-eight-year marriage. In spite of numerous visits from my brother and his wife, Nancy, who live nearby, Dad was terribly lonely without Mom. His death thankfully ended his physical and mental suffering.
In addition to his children and grandchildren, Dad is survived by his brother, Thomas D. Wetrich, and his wife, Jean, who live in Falls Church, VA.
William W. Wetrich ’73