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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
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.