Harold "Doc" South, of Fairbanks, passed away peacefully Jan. 18, 2015, at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, surrounded by family. He was 87. He is survived by his son, Daniel South; daughters Kathryn South and Susan Guritz; son-in-law Richard Guritz; and grandchildren Rodney, Jessica and Brian Guritz, and Tyler South. He also is survived by two great-grandchildren, Ayla Ongtooguk-Guritz and Yana Ongtooguk-Guritz. He was preceded in death by his wife, Louise; and sons William and David South.
Doc, as he is known by his friends, was born Jan. 9, 1928, in Bloomington, Indiana, to Lula and Garland South. He was brought up during the hard times of the Depression and World War II. Though his family was poor and his schooling was interrupted when he was stricken with tuberculosis as a teenager, he was blessed with a keen intellect, an insatiable curiosity and the will to create a better life for himself and others. He persevered and achieved his goal of graduating from college and medical school to become a psychiatrist. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from Indiana University in Bloomington and completed his residency in psychiatry at Ohio State University.
While in medical school, Doc met and married the love of his life, Louise Nall. They settled in Richmond, Indiana, where Doc worked at the state mental hospital, and Louise stayed home to take care of the growing family. Doc was an enthusiastic outdoorsman who liked to hunt and fish and had long been interested in the great state of Alaska. As the years went on, the allure of the last frontier grew stronger, and in summer 1970, Doc took a position as the northern regional psychiatrist for the state of Alaska and moved with Louise and their five children from Richmond, Indiana, to Fairbanks. In 1979, he transferred to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage, serving as interim director for a time and then chief of admissions unit until he retired in the late 1980s. He was well known and respected during his career as a dedicated and compassionate physician who treated co-workers and patients alike with great respect and kindness.
Outside of work, Doc enjoyed spending time with his family, whether it was summer outings to hike, pick berries or go fishing, or quiet winter evenings at home. He has described himself as a "compulsive reader" who especially enjoyed reading history and liked to share his extensive knowledge of world history with others. He also enjoyed doing leatherwork.
Out of all of Doc's many interests, though, his strongest passion was for traditional music. From a young age, he was influenced by the old-time songs he heard on the front porches and backyards of family and friends while growing up in southern Indiana. Though he did not have formal musical training, he learned from traditional bluegrass and old-time musicians to pick out tunes by ear and during the years, taught himself to read music. Although known mainly as a fiddle player, Doc played all the old-time string instruments, including mandolin, banjo and guitar. He also was interested in his Scotch-Irish heritage, enjoyed playing Irish and Scottish tunes, and even performed as a drummer with bagpipe groups. As a young man, Doc learned to call square dances and enjoyed leading many a dance.
During his years in Alaska, Doc became well-known for his passion for traditional music and dance, and especially for his enthusiasm and generosity when it came to sharing the joy and inspiring others to join the fun. Doc has inspired and encouraged many a novice musician to pick up a guitar, mandolin or banjo and strum along. He has taught classes in square dancing and playing traditional music on string instruments in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Palmer through community colleges and community centers. The many bands he played with during the years included the South Family Band, a homegrown group comprised mainly of family members, and the Sidewinders, a major facet of the old-time and bluegrass music revival in 1970s Fairbanks. He has performed at music festivals, state fairs, coffee shops and bars, as well as the Pioneers' Home in Palmer. Doc was especially fond of jam sessions, where musicians at all levels of proficiency could play together and learn from each other.
In recent years, Doc has been recognized for his contributions to the music scene in Alaska and some have dubbed him "the father of old-time and bluegrass music in Alaska." In 2010, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Alaska Legislature for his contributions in spreading interest in traditional music and dance across the state. In 2014, the Fairbanks Folk Festival was dedicated in his honor and he also received a lifetime achievement award from the Fairbanks Arts Association and Interior Alaska Mayors.
In November 2012, Doc returned to Fairbanks to live with daughter, Sue, and her family because of health issues. He added so much to the extended family here with his gentle presence, his story telling and laughter, and he enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, reconnecting with old friends and making new friends. Though he experienced many hardships and personal losses during the course of his life, he never lost his easy-going and playful approach to life that made his presence so special. He will be sorely missed by all.
A celebration of his life with music and potluck supper will be held from 4-9 p.m. Feb. 15 in Fairbanks at the Musher's Hall on Farmers Loop.
Published in Daily News-Miner on Jan. 25, 2015.