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John C. Bettinger M.D.

1922 - 2016 Obituary Condolences
John C. Bettinger M.D. Obituary
John C. Bettinger, MD John Carl Bettinger, M.D., 94, passed away on March 4, 2016, at his home in Novato, California. Dr. Bettinger grew up in South Milwaukee, where he was born on February 25, 1922 to John and Hildegarde Bettinger. His parents, both schoolteachers, later opened a dry goods store in town above which the family lived and where young John was frequently put to work. An only child, he spent his summers--which he later recalled as the very best of times--with his merry band of cousins in the small and idyllic town of Spring Green, Wisconsin. He attended South Milwaukee High, where he starred at basketball, impressed his teachers with what was already a deep and far-reaching intellect, and graduated valedictorian. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in accounting from The University of Wisconsin, paying part of his way by digging ditches during the summer for Wisconsin Gas and Electric. While at Madison, he made Phi Beta Kappa, completed four years of ROTC, was named outstanding man of the junior class, and received the Herfurth Award as the best overall senior. Directly upon graduating in 1943 he entered the army as a second lieutenant, stationed first at Fort Benning, Georgia, then at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and finally at Camp Roberts, California where he first developed a liking for the Bay Area. A back injury sustained in the army and the death of his father from cancer triggered his interest in medicine, and at the war's end he returned to California where he worked nights tending bar at a motorcyclist's hang-out and spent days attending pre-medical courses at San Francisco City College. He attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania where he was elected Alpha Omega Alpha. He took his internship and residency at Philadelphia General Hospital where, during the first year, he did his own basic lab work, measuring glucose levels himself while rescuing patients in diabetic ketoacidosis. As a resident, he published signature work on the effects of IV potassium on heart rhythms. A Fulbright Fellowship took him to London for a year to study cardiology in greater depth, at one point receiving instruction from Charles Wilson, Winston Churchill's personal physician. In 1954, John married Lucille Bretherick, a union that would last 60 years until her passing in 2015. They moved to San Francisco in the late 50's, where John completed his training as a fellow with the Cardiovascular Research Institute at UCSF. They moved to Marin in 1960 where they were longtime residents of Ross and later Novato. Dr. Bettinger practiced internal medicine in Marin for 52 years. He brought the first arterial blood gas machine to the county and was the first to perform an electrical defibrillation. He developed, designed and directed the county's first intensive care unit at Ross Hospital. Caring for inmates at San Quentin, he was the first to use amphotericin to treat coccidioidomycosis. Throughout his career, he remained remarkably current with the dramatic progress of medicine: the explosion of antibiotics, the advent of CT scanners, the management of HIV. He went to bat for his patients, calling national experts for opinions and petitioning drug companies and the FDA for use of new medications. At the same time, he practiced medicine in the old-fashioned way: with compassion, patience and intellect. He spent time with his patients; peppered their visits with jokes; devised his own home remedies. He later wrote, "It is the doctor's job to do his best to treat each patient as he comes, non-judgmentally, one at a time, as an individual soul of paramount importance." He profoundly believed in--and conveyed to everyone--the need for hope, no matter how dire the circumstances. He was widely admired by physicians, nurses, and hospital staff. When he retired from practice, his patients wept. Upon retirement he continued to uphold his Hippocratic Oath, taking phone calls from former patients and working as a volunteer at the Marin RotaCare Clinic until the age of 90. In addition to his professional work Dr. Bettinger invested his time and energy in the local elementary school system. He served on the Ross School Board for 16 years, 8 of which he served as president. His many hobbies included golf, running, backpacking, skiing, and exploring the National Parks with his family. He was a voracious reader whose library comprised volumes on mathematics, philosophy, religion, history, literature, and Greek and Roman mythology. He studied Latin until the day he died. Dr. Bettinger's devotion to profession and community were surpassed only by his devotion to his family. With Lucille, his wife and sweetheart of 61 years, he had a deep and permanent connection. They complemented each other, stuck by each other, and laughed both with and at each other. Upon his retirement, the two of them were able to live outliterallytheir cowboy dreams, riding horses at their cabin in Montana. For his five children, he was a source of unfailing support and love. He cheered them on at countless athletic and dancing events; studied calculus and Chinese and modern poetry along with them; put them through college and graduate school; took delight in their children. He was beloved by his 12 grandchildren as an inimitable poker player, storyteller, and supplier of treats. With all of us, he shared his values of intellectual curiosity and rigor, of hard work, of autonomy, of humor, of respect for others, and of devotion to family. He loved his family, his profession, his patients, his community, and his country. He will be greatly missed, and always remembered. John is survived by his five children, Carl Bettinger, MD, JD (Palmetto, FL), Paul Bettinger, MD (Casper, WY), John R. Bettinger, MD (Kentfield), Lise Rak, MD (Los Altos), Katie McMann, M.Ed. (Novato), and his 12 grandchildren. Services will be held Saturday March 19 at 11 AM at Unity In Marin, 600 Palm Drive, Hamilton Center, Novato, CA 94949. Viewing will be from 10 AM to 11 AM. If planning to attend, please RSVP to Katie McMann, 415-892-8725 or email [email protected] In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Dr. Bettinger's name to RotaCare Bay Area.
Published in Marin Independent Journal from Mar. 11 to Mar. 13, 2016
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