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Fred Matthies ’49

November 16, 2022, in Portland, from congestive heart failure.

Though not a superstitious man, Fred liked to point out that he was born in the year of the rabbit—August 29, 1927, to be exact—and that luck had smiled on him all his life. A strong case could be made that he was right. For starters, he was adopted from Holy Cross Hospital in Spokane, Washington, by Silas and Myrtle Matthies, a prosperous couple from the area. They loved Fred as if he were their own, and he had no idea he’d been adopted until he was an adult. It is said that adopting a child can improve the odds of conceiving one, and sure enough, Fred was blessed with a little brother named Si in 1930.

The following year, the family moved to Ogden, Utah, where, despite the country’s severe economic woes, Fred spent a mostly idyllic youth playing baseball, hunting, and getting into mischief with his brother. He also developed a keen interest in astronomy, and it would become a favorite hobby, along with golf, for decades to follow. Fred was in high school when WWII broke out. A number of fine young men in the classes immediately preceding his were killed in action, but by the time Fred graduated from Ogden High School and reported for duty at the naval base in San Diego, the war was all but over. Lucky, indeed.

At Reed, Fred wrote his thesis, “A Study of the Application of Radioautographic Techniques to the Problem of Uptake, Transport, and Distribution of Materials by Cells,” advised by Prof. Frank Hungate [biology 1946–52]. “I learned to work hard and how to keep learning out of the classroom,” Fred said of his years at Reed. He completed his MD at the University of Chicago, and from there it was back to Ogden, where he joined the practice of Frank Bartlett and his son Jay Bartlett. Fred always said he was very lucky to start his career with a mentor as wise as the elder Bartlett, who emphasized the importance of humanity in medicine.

In 1955, he married the young widow Claire Shaw, adopting her two sons, Alan and Rich, and two daughters, Lynne and Janet.  A third daughter, Karen, was born to the couple in January of 1957. Ultimately the marriage did not work out, but as luck would have it, a few years later he met Susan Arentz when they were introduced by a mutual friend at a party in Salt Lake City. They wed in June of 1969, just in time to watch the lunar landing together. A year later their son, Silas, was born while Fred was completing his residency in pediatrics at Stanford. The other residents said that, of their class, he was the kindest and most patient with ailing children.

Fred was working as a pediatrician in East Lansing, Michigan, when Susan gave birth to their second son, Carl, who was lucky enough to share his father’s birthday.

The bulk of Fred’s career was spent training residents at the Family Health Center, a clinic serving lower-income residents in Carson, California. The clinic was often under threat of closure because his bosses at UCLA saw lucrative specialization, not general practice and primary care, as the future of medicine. Through it all, Fred would say how lucky he was to be able to take care of the sick and to work with dedicated colleagues committed to the same goal, rewards which far exceeded any financial compensation and more than made up for the slings and arrows from powerful administrators. Ultimately his vision of preventive health-care and the concept of a “medical home” prevailed, and the Harbor-UCLA Family Health Center is thriving.

Fred was an astronomy buff. Asked whether he was an astrologer, he replied, “No, just a stargazer.” He witnessed two full solar eclipses, an appearance of Halley’s comet, and a transit of Venus. He is survived by his wife of 53 years, his brother, three sons, and two daughters.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2023

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