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James Joseph Sullivan, DO

August 27, 1930 February 27, 2011
James Joseph Sullivan,  DO
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Obituary for James Joseph Sullivan, DO

Dr. James J. Sullivan, 80, beloved family physician, died peacefully Sunday, February 27, 2011 at his home in Gladwin, Michigan. He was born August 27, 1930 to James J. Sullivan, Sr. and Mary E. Sullivan, in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was one of eight children. Dr. Sullivan had a large presence in the local medical community. Besides his private practice, he worked at the Gladwin Area Hospital, and for many years was the Gladwin County Medical Examiner and also the Medical Director of the Gladwin Nursing and Rehabilitation Community on Pratt Lake Road. Having treated thousands of patients, he was a familiar figure in town. Standing over six feet tall, he always wore dress slacks, a sports jacket and his trademark fedora hat. He was a private man who served the public all of his life. He received his undergraduate degree in biology in 1952 from Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He graduated from medical school in 1956 from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathy in Pennsylvania. He was a member of the American Osteopathic Association, the Michigan Osteopathic Association, the Michigan Osteopathic Board of General Practice, was certified as both a General Practitioner, and a Michigan Osteopathic Family Physician. During medical school in Philadelphia, he met and married Natalie Lennon of Gladwin, Michigan. After graduation, they moved to Michigan for his internship at Flint General Hospital. In Flint, he set up his first practice from 1957-1965. In 1965, James and Natalie moved their eight children to the big stone house on the hill on North M-18, two miles outside of town, which would serve as both his office and his private home. Two more children were born after the move to Gladwin. Although James and Natalie would eventually divorce, they remained friends. Later, Dr. Sullivan moved his practice to town where he worked until he retired in 2009. Dr. Sullivan’s 53-year career saw tremendous changes in the field of medicine, once describing the early part of his career as the "golden age of medicine". He was an old-fashioned country doctor who treated entire families from birth to the end of life. It is estimated he delivered over 2000 babies. He took phone calls 24 hrs a day, made house calls, and always had candy for children who came to his office. His dedication to his patients and his ability to listen and give advice in a plain spoken manner with humor, aided by his legendary memory, made him the doctor he was. Throughout his career, he relied on the caring and dedicated staff at the hospital, nursing homes, and in his private practice. James was a man of many passions, particularly sports. A dedicated fan of the the Detroit Tigers and Lions, he rarely missed a game. He loved the beauty and challenge of the sport of horse racing. In 2007, he traveled with family members to see the Belmont Stakes in New York, which was the thrill of a lifetime. As much as he loved baseball and horse racing, he lived and breathed golf. The pursuit of the perfect swing was a lifelong quest. Through countless books, magazines and videos he studied the sport tirelessly. True to form, he was always eager to share what he learned with others. He could often be seen practicing his golf swing in the hallway of his office between patients, particularly on Mondays before his regular league night at the Gladwin Country Golf Course. He was very proud of his twice getting a hole in one. The companionship and humor of his friends was something of which he spoke often. He was delighted to return to golf after recovery from his heart surgery, even winning a senior golf tournament with his longtime golf partner, Jerry Westbeld. James loved good food. Learning to cook later in life, his specialties were chicken soup, spaghetti sauce w/meat balls, roasted chicken, and ribs. He cooked for his staff and his family, usually bringing a roasted chicken to the office once a week, and always cooking a memorable meal for his children when they visited. He read cookbooks and looked to the Food Channel for inspiration. An avid reader, his house had books and magazines of every topic and various newspapers in every room. He read the New Yorker magazine cover-to-cover each week, and usually had several books going at any one time. His curiosity for life and ideas never left him and he could carry on a conversation about almost anything. James was raised talking politics and he raised his own children talking politics. He missed his children, but was proud that they ventured out into the world to seek their way, as he and all his brothers and sisters had done. He will be remembered for his love of others and for his great sense of humor. He had a very dry wit. Often just a twinkle in his eye or the shadow of a smirk would reveal he was kidding you. He would often tell jokes at the expense of himself, never missing the irony of the situation, like telling a patient, “You know you really need to quit smoking it’s killing you... uh, do you mind if I borrow a cigarette? I’m all out at the moment.” He also saw the absurdity of life, and with a well placed comment, his insight into a moment could help people relax and not take themselves so seriously. He appreciated a well-told joke, a good stand-up comedian, or a funny movie. At the end of his life, he finally had the time to just relax, cook, read, watch TV, listen to music, and enjoy feeding the birds on his back deck, where he could watch them come and go. He is survived by his children and grandchildren: Kevin, New York City; Eileen and her husband, Gary Howell, Beulah, MI; Thomas and his wife, Lisa (French) and their sons, Michael and Sean, Portland, OR; Kathleen, Astoria, OR; James, Sacramento; Patrick, New York City; Mary, Los Angeles; Margaret and her husband Preston Bates and his son Cassady of Reserve, NM; Robert and his partner Victoria Montelongo, Dallas; Iris and her husband Joe Garrison and their sons, Sam and Martin, Astoria, OR. He is also survived by his sister, Betty Chivil, Vernon, New Jersey; and his former wife, Natalie Sullivan, Gladwin, MI. Dr. Sullivan is preceded in death by his parents, brothers and two sisters: George, Claire Kidwell, William, Robert, Francis, and Eileen Ravella. Visitation will be held on Wednesday March 9th and Thursday March 10th from 2pm to 8pm at Sisson’s Funeral Home. A funeral mass will be held at 11am Friday, March 11th, at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Gladwin, MI with Rev. Fr. Father Cotter as celebrant. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the local food bank.

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