Dr. Harold H. Burns, 95, Mercy Medical surgeon

January 30, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Dr. Harold H. Burns, a retired Mercy Medical Center surgeon who as a young man accompanied silent movies on the piano, died in his sleep of congestive heart failure Saturday at his Towson home. He was 95.

Born in Girardville, Pa., he learned piano as a child and soon began playing for silent movies in theaters in eastern Pennsylvania. Family members said that on a trip to Atlantic City, N.J., he saw Al Jolson speak and sing in The Jazz Singer, and decided there was no future in his profession.

At the urging of a sister who taught him high school chemistry, he attended what is now Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa. and took pre-med courses at the University of Pittsburgh. He earned his medical degree from the University of Maryland in 1936.

He did his residency at what was then Mercy Hospital and continued to perform surgery there almost daily until 1972. For many years, he had an Eager Street office, and he maintained a general medical practice in Parkville until 1990.

"He was opinionated and outspoken on everything," said Celeste Higgins, former head nurse in Mercy's minor-surgery department. "And he was such a good doctor. His patients just loved him. He was the kind of person who came into work whether he had a case or not."

Family members said he believed it was his duty to use his skills as a diagnostician and surgeon for the benefit of others. During World War II, he worked double shifts at Mercy to cover for surgeons in military service.

They said he often gave free medical exams to Parkville Boy Scouts and never sent a bill to Roman Catholic priests or nuns. For several hours each Wednesday, he had office hours at the old Jesuit seminary at Woodstock.

"I've never known a person who felt more for his patients," said J. Edward Macatee Jr., a retired banker and friend for 70 years.

Dr. Burns enjoyed ballroom dancing at the Greenspring Inn.

His wife of more than 50 years, the former Margaret Ross Conway, died in 1989.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church on Ware Avenue in Towson, where he was a member.

Survivors include a son, Harold H. Burns Jr. of Baltimore; four daughters, Margaret J. Bulfer of Mountain Lakes, N.J., Mary Bridget McCurdy of Baltimore, Kathryn R. Garland of Springfield, Va., and Judith A. French of Charlotte, N.C.; a sister, Vera Urban of St. Petersburg, Fla.; a friend, Ruth Kammer of Baltimore; 17 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren, including a great-grandson born the day before his death.

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