JOHN JOSEPH, M.D.
Age 75, of Fox Chapel, died on Friday, August 1, 2014, surrounded by his family. Harper was born to John and Anne Harper on August 4, 1938, in Connellsville, PA. He grew up in nearby Dawson with his three brothers and one sister, going to school in a one room schoolhouse. His father worked for Koppers and the family moved to Hagerstown, MD, then Bedford, IN, and then finally back to the Whitehall neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where Harper attended Baldwin High School. Harper was one of the first generation in his family to receive a college education. He went to St. Vincent College and then attended St. Louis University Medical School, graduating in 1965. During his internship at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh, he met a nurse, Linda Tarasi, who became the love of his life. He was commissioned in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War, attaining the rank of captain and was awarded two Air Medals and one Bronze Star Medal for distinguished service. Stationed at Phan Rang Air Force Base from 1966 to 1967, Harper served as a flight surgeon and voluntarily accompanied pilots in the 352nd Fighter Squadron on 100 missions. Along with nuns in the local religious community, he built a Roman Catholic orphanage to look after many of the bi-racial children abandoned in the war. Upon returning from Vietnam, he married Linda in November 1967, honeymooning in Nassau, the Bahamas. They first lived together in Maple Shade, NJ, while Harper served out his duty at McGuire Air Force Base and Linda attended graduate school in Philadelphia. He returned to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh to complete his residency in pediatrics and then the couple moved to Ligonier to raise their children in a small town rural setting. While there, they designed and built their own home in the colonial Georgian style which they named Lindenwood, clearing the land to overlook the Chestnut Ridge. Harper became a partner in 1970 in the pediatric practice founded by Ray Sarver in Latrobe. They were reported to be among the first in the United States to experiment with using non-physician extenders, now known as physician assistants and nurse practitioners. Early on, he demonstrated an uncanny ability to bring together strongly opinionated professionals. Recognized as a physician leader, he became president of the medical staff at Latrobe Area Hospital. He was also active in the philanthropic community and worked with Fred Rogers to raise money for a local school for emotionally handicapped children, including organizing a pro-am tennis event with Rod Laver. After nearly two decades practicing medicine, Harper made a major career change in 1983 and joined The Aetna Life and Casualty Co., moving the family to West Hartford, CT. Vice president in the Employee Benefits Division, he played an important role in the development of computerization to link Aetna to its various patient, doctor, hospital and drug company constituents. He also served on corporate accounts such as Delta and major projects such as a joint healthcare initiative with the Indonesian government. Following his shift into the business world, Harper earned a reputation to lean purposefully towards action in the interests of a broader public. His next role was medical director at Thrift Drug in 1987, with the family moving back to Pittsburgh and into the Fox Chapel suburb. Harper re-entered the medical community in 1991 when he joined Forbes Hospital System, creating a unique opportunity to combine his expertise in business, administration and medicine, ultimately becoming medical director. While developing a close relationship with the medical staff, he specialized in the use of data, such as diagnostic regulatory group information, to identify areas for improvement in care. He joined The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 1998 as medical director and was responsible for quality assurance and physician credentialing system-wide. Prior to retiring in 2008, Harper was also medical director at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Maryland, as well as at Highmark and finally a consultant at Progressive Home Health. In Harper's career, spanning pediatrics, insurance, pharmaceuticals, and hospital administration, he was known for his attention to detail, managerial focus on enabling doctors to practice their best medicine, wide-ranging cross-discipline insights, and a robust analytical capability. He had a warm and engaging manner and an unquestionable sincerity that helped him to gain the trust of a wide spectrum of people and personalities in so many different situations. Throughout, the only thing stronger than Harper's work ethic was the personal attention he gave to the care of his patients and to his interaction with colleagues. Harper was an accomplished sportsman, fervent genealogist, avid reader, particularly of history, and amateur wine-maker. He was the pitcher on a team that made it into the playoffs for the Pony League World Series and also played basketball in high school. A lifelong scratch golfer, he treasured his time on the golf course, whether playing, practicing or teaching, especially with his children and grandchildren. He first got on the golf course by earning a Monday morning golfing privilege by caddying at South Hills Country Club. He started the team at St. Vincent College and is reputed to have golfed against Jack Nicklaus's team at Ohio State and competed in match play to a draw. He was a long-standing member of the Pittsburgh Field Club and Latrobe Country Club and was known for his ready-golf and passion for the weekly SWAT. Harper was truly passionate for IndyCar racing, along with his brothers, and cherished the Indianapolis 500, making it out to the race on several occasions. Over the years, Harper traced his family tree back to the colonial times of Pennsylvania, researching his way through sundry repositories of information he happily discovered in Fayette County. He was a student of history, particularly Churchill, war, and the U.S. presidents. He also found time for wine-making in his best friend's cellar where they produced reds, whites and even, on occasion, champagne. Harper was also a Chautauquan, spending time over many summers at Chautauqua Institution in New York with his family and truly embodied its spirit of lifelong learning which he passed along to his children. Ultimately, Harper was always there to help the people around him - at work, socially and in his family. As one of his good friends noted recently, "He did lots of extra things for lots of people through all the many years I knew him." Harper is survived by his wife, Linda Harper; son, Anthony "A.J." Harper; and daughter, Dr. Rebecca Harper Dougherty; and grandchildren, Quinn, Fiona and Liam Dougherty, and Anthony "Jay" Harper; and sister, Anne Liberati; and brother, William Harper. He was preceded in death by brothers, James and Patrick Harper; and infant brothers, Timothy, Daniel and Michael Harper. In lieu of flowers, the family asks to make donations to Seas It, a non-profit organization designed to help cancer patients and caregivers with exercise where Rebecca Harper Dougherty currently serves as a board member. The funeral service will be held on August 16, 2014, at 11:00 a.m. at St. Paul's Cathedral. A reception will follow at Longue Vue Country Club. All friends and family are invited.
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Published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Aug. 13 to Aug. 14, 2014