Dr. George J. Sawyer Jr., 93, 'beloved physician' for 40 years

October 10, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. George John Sawyer Jr., a retired Northeast Baltimore physician who spent more than 40 years dispensing medical care to patients day and night, died Monday of cancer at Southminster Retirement Community in Charlotte, N.C. He was 93.

Dr. Sawyer, who moved to North Carolina from Towson in 1992, was described by his son George J. Sawyer III of Charlotte as "a beloved physician, gentleman and scholar."

A 1930 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Dr. Sawyer had planned to be a psychiatrist. He switched to general medicine because he thought psychiatrists "were nuttier than the patients," said the son with a laugh.

From 1937 to 1976, when he retired, Dr. Sawyer operated his practice from the first floor of his Harford Road residence, near Southern Avenue in Hamilton.

"On the first floor of our home was his waiting room, office, kitchen and our dining room. He had no receptionist and even answered the phone and opened his own door," said the son.

After treating patients in the morning, Dr. Sawyer would get behind the wheel of his gray 1940 Dodge coupe and make house calls.

Between house calls and evening hours that often stretched well past 10 p.m., Dr. Sawyer, whose wife was his nurse, would pull down the shades and indulge his passion for literature and classical music until the next patient rang the doorbell.

A tall man with a carefully trimmed mustache who wore conservatively cut suits and horn-rimmed glasses, Dr. Sawyer was seldom without one of his favorite El Producto cigars.

He had an unusual method for keeping track of his patients' bills. "He wrote down charges and names on little scraps of paper, which he invariably lost and then would spend hours at the dining room table trying to figure out who owed what on what pieces remained," said his son.

More often than not, Dr. Sawyer accepted a jug of homemade wine, a cake or a tray of cookies as payment.

Until he retired, Dr. Sawyer's charges had remained basically unchanged from when he started. An office visit cost $2, a daytime house call was $4, and a nighttime call was $5.

After he retired, Dr. Sawyer received in the mail a catalog from the Johns Hopkins University, where he had earned his bachelor's degree in 1926. Then in his late 70s, he decided to earn a master's degree in liberal arts.

"He was awarded the degree in 1981 but refused to wear the cap or march in the procession at graduation. He said that wasn't for him," said the son.

Dr. Sawyer had a deep love for Baltimore and such venerable institutions as Fort McHenry, Federal Hill and Marconi's restaurant on West Saratoga Street. He refused to travel on the Baltimore Beltway, the Jones Falls Expressway or any other road built after 1955.

Dr. Sawyer was in his 90s when he discovered martinis. He enjoyed one at the end of each day and wondered why he hadn't discovered them earlier in his life.

He was born and raised near Union Square, in Southwest Baltimore, where his father and grandfather kept stalls at Hollins Market. He was a 1922 graduate of City College.

"There were two important events of his childhood that he liked to talk about. In 1910, his father kept him home from school to see 'some damned fool' fly over the city in an airplane," said Mr. Sawyer.

The aviator was Hubert Latham, who flew over Baltimore on Nov. 7, 1910.

"He also recalled sitting at St. Mary's Industrial School in 1914 watching a young George Herman Ruth play baseball," the son said.

A memorial service will be held today in Charlotte.

Dr. Sawyer was married for 59 years to the former Thelma Caldwell, who died in 1991.

He is survived by another son, Robert C. Sawyer of Santa Monica, Calif.; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 10/10/97

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