John Edgar Witt M.D.(.)

John Edgar Witt, M.D March 20, 1920 - June 21, 2013 A private family "celebration of life" is scheduled for John Edgar Witt, M.D., who practiced ophthalmology in Bakersfield for more than 35 years with his partners Glenn Siemon and Don Bradley (Siemon, Witt and Bradley) at 2020 Truxtun Ave. On June 21, Dr. Witt died peacefully from complications of Alzheimer's Disease at home in Clovis (Fresno County) after several weeks of hospice care. He was 93. Dr. Witt, along with his wife and four children, moved to Bakersfield in 1955 for a two-year residency in ophthalmology at Kern General Hospital, following four years of general practice at the Goldston Clinic in Amarillo, Texas. "After those years of delivering babies and going on house calls in the middle of the night, John decided he needed to specialize," remembered Joan, his wife of 69 years. The couple planned to return to Amarillo after the residency, but California had enchanted them. "After two years in California we just never wanted to go back. California became home for our four children. It simply became home to us all," said Mrs. Witt. However, medicine was only a part of his experience in Bakersfield. He was an active lay person in virtually every aspect of Trinity United Methodist Church on Niles Street. He was an integral part of the Kern Astronomy Club, made his own telescopes, hand-grinding lenses for them. He served as chief of medical staff at Mercy Hospital. And he was a generous donor to a number of local, national and global philanthropies. During World War II, he was an Army Air Corps pilot and instructor for B-25s. He was certified in 1960 by the American Board of Ophthalmology. In his late 60s, Dr. Witt braved jungle humidity and insects in the wilds of Borneo for several weeks as part of a volunteer group of physicians and support staff to provide eye care (such as glasses and cataract surgery) for traditional tribes people who had no regular contact with western medicine. As part of the Kern Astronomy Club, he and his wife traveled widely to see celestial events, including Peru to observe and photograph Halley's Comet. With his wife, Dr. Witt also was active in the Friendship Force, a volunteer group that gave Americans the opportunity to host foreign visitors in their homes and be offered the same courtesy while they were abroad. From his birth in a small Panhandle of Texas farm, he and his wife traveled across the globe, an experience they both recounted as priceless. Dr. Witt was born March 20, 1920, in Adrian, Texas, a farming community some 50 miles west of Amarillo. On his mother's side (Jacobson) he traced his roots to a late 19th century Norwegian sea captain who came to America via Chicago and Iowa. His Witt heritage wound back through a series of Methodist ministers and circuit riders to colonial times. However, his life changed dramatically in 1925 when his father died of tuberculosis leaving him, his sister and mother to continue operations on their dry-land farm. Occurring before TB was temporarily "tamed" by antibiotics, the childhood experience was an important factor in Dr. Witt's drive to become a physician. After graduating from high school, he left home to attend the University of Texas (Austin). Supporting himself for four years, in 1940 he became the first member of his extended family to graduate from college. After surviving the decade of the 1930s with its Dust Bowl and Great Depression, Dr. Witt and millions of other Americans suddenly faced World War II. He volunteered for the Army Air Corps. After basic training, in 1943 he was assigned to Pampa Air Force Base, Texas, where he learned (and later taught other pilots) to fly B-25 bombers. During that year, he met and courted Joan Elizabeth Gurley, of Pampa, who in 1944 became his wife. He later was assigned to Sebring, Fla., for training in the famed B-17 "Flying Fortress" bomber. His final military assignment was in 1945 at Maxwell Field in Alabama where he trained as the pilot for a B-29 crew, preparing for service overseas when World War II ended. He was commissioned as a Captain in the Army Air Corps before separating from the military in January 1946. The following October he used the G.I. Bill to finance his enrollment at Baylor Medical School in Houston. He graduated in 1950, and in 1951 completed his internship at Jefferson Davis Hospital, also in Houston. After moving to Bakersfield, and finishing his residency, Dr. Witt also completed ophthalmology courses at the Jules Stein Institute at UCLA, and the University of New Mexico. Before leaving Amarillo, Dr. Witt attended a sort of "mini-internship" at Cook County Hospital in Chicago after the obstetrician at the Goldston Clinic suffered a serious health set back. In the spring of 1957, Dr. Witt and his family traveled to Waterville, Me., for the Lancaster Course in Basic Science in Ophthalmology at Colby College -- a three-month course to prepare for his American Board of Ophthalmology exams. Later in life, the couple also built a weekend and summer residence in Cambria, San Luis Obispo County, sharing it with friends and relatives and hosting Friendship Force guests for many years. They moved to Clovis three years ago, when Dr. Witt began exhibiting symptoms of the disease that would finally take his life. Dr. Witt is survived by his wife Joan of Clovis; sons John Robin (and Suzanne of Rancho Murieta); Randall Cruse (and Carolyn of Clovis); and Forrest Ross (and Mary Kay of Van Nuys) along with numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his daughter Mary Elizabeth (Bakersfield) and his older sister Olive Balding (Bakersfield). Any remembrances may be submitted to a charity or philanthropy of the donor's choice.

Published in Bakersfield Californian on July 14, 2013