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Dr. William Howard Coats

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Dr. William Howard Coats, longtime Chico physician, died on August 21, 2008 at the age of 88. Surrounded with family, he began his final journey at home on his Coats Orchard ranch.

Literally and figuratively, this man was larger than life. He was tall, distinguished, endlessly curious, deeply intellectual, capable of doing and discussing virtually anything. Dr. Coats' diagnostic skills and compassion were superb,.impacting countless lives during his long career in medicine. Colleagues and patients sought his advice, housecalls were frequent, after-hours phone calls colored his evenings, and as one of his former patients, Chicoan Bernice Abbott, puts it, "you just felt so safe in his care. He made you feel like your needs were the most important of all. Doctors aren't like him any more."

Dr. Coats was born in Tyler, Texas, on Nov. 24, 1919, the second child of Dr. Howard Ray Coats and Bess Jane (Little) Coats. He graduated from Tyler High School in 1937, going on to receive his premed education at Baylor University and the University of Texas. He earned his medical degree in 1944 at the College of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons (Los Angeles), later to become the core facility of the University of California at Irvine. He served his internship and residency at the L.A. County General Hospital. While there he met Gwendolyn Crawford, a fellow Texan, (from McAllen), an aspiring stage and film actress.

They married on March 28, 1946. With their marriage the lure of the movies dimmed for Gwen, and the couple returned to Texas to raise their young family. Ten years of private practice in three small East Texas towns taught him every level of medical care (his experiences included building a homemade incubator for premature babies, stitching up wounds with common sewing needles, and battling infections before antibiotics were commonly available.) But eventually Bill and Gwen realized that their hearts remained in Southern California, so in 1956, they came back to settle first in the Long Beach area, and later in Tustin. For 13 years he commuted daily to Compton Physicians and Surgeons Hospital where he had an active private practice in addition to duties as a hospital principal partner.

By 1972, tired of the freeway wars and impressed with the Chico area (daughter Kathryn was attending Chico State) Dr. Coats decided upon one final move. He purchased a sprawling almond ranch in the Durham area, and became both a nut farmer and the first full-time emergency room physician at Enloe. In 1975 he resumed private family practice, first as successor to Dr. William Strong, and subsequently to Dr. Charles McCulloch. Dr. Coats closed his office practice in 1988, although he remained as Medical Director of Chico's convalescent hospitals through 1989 when be retired completely.

He was soon as involved in new pursuits as he had been in his career. At various points he excelled at photography, astronomy, fishing, private aviation, geneology, and the mysteries of computers. He and Gwen traveled extensively, and he was an insatiable reader. Before his eyesight began to fail, he loved golfing with his buddies at the Butte Creek Country Club. But his major hobby has always been music, with a devotion to playing the Hammond Organ. Light classics, show-tunes, and popular music of the last 50 years were his particular favorites, performed perhaps imperfectly, but with enthusiasm. In his words: "throughout it all, I have been, nearly always, a singularly lone and self-satisfied performer."

Beside him, every step of the way, has been his adoring family: wife, Gwen; daughter, Connie Andrusaitis and husband, Ged of Durham; children, Daniel and Jessica; daughter (third-generation physician), Dr. Carol Coats and husband, Dave Wasick of Minden, Nevada, children Tyler, David, and Billy; and daughter, Kathryn Dillon and husband, Mike of San Marcos, Texas, children, Sarah Kate, Tatiana, and Alex. He was preceded in death by his only sibling, Doris Jean Coats Decker of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and by his parents.

Memorial Services will held on Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 11:00 a.m. at the Butte Creek Country Club. Arrangements are being handled by Brusie Funeral Home in Chico, CA.

For those desiring, the family asks that a donation be made to the charity of the donor's choice. Dr. Coat's daughters ask that if any reader has a family member in the Greatest Generation, as was their extraordinary father, to please give them extra special hugs in honor of the strength they have brought to our communities, our families, and to our country. We are losing them all too fast.
Published in Chico Enterprise-Record on Aug. 24, 2008
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