Dr. Leland Bates Stevens, 90, longtime family physician in city

February 24, 2005|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Dr. Leland Bates Stevens, a retired Northeast Baltimore family physician who once charged a half-dollar for an office visit and eschewed appointments during more than 45 years of medical practice, died of pneumonia Sunday at Beebe Medical Center in Lewes, Del. The former Towson resident was 90.

Born on a farm near Kent County's Millington, he walked three miles each day to a one-room schoolhouse.

"My father grew up with kerosene lamps because there was no electricity on the farm. He bathed in a tub by the fire, and he ate food his parents grew," said his daughter, Paula A. Sparks of Millersville.

"The Depression made an impact on him. Customers could not afford to buy the tomatoes they grew, even at 5 cents a basket, so they fed them to the pigs and ate lots of tomato gravy in a recipe he passed down to me," she said.

Farm life didn't leave much time for hobbies, but Dr. Stevens was a reader. When he was 8 years old, he would send away for five books, read them and return them within the 15-day trial period so that he only had to pay postage, his family said.

At 12, he developed pneumonia. When a surgeon removed part of his lung, he resolved to study medicine.

"He was very determined to become a doctor after that experience," his daughter said.

He earned a bachelor's degree at Washington College in Chestertown and graduated from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. To pay for his medical education, he worked summers digging ditches and cutting lumber on the Eastern Shore.

At 24, he began an internship at what was then University Hospital, and in June 1941, he began his practice on Erdman Avenue. He specialized in family medicine and pediatrics there until his retirement in 1986.

"He was an expert diagnostician who could make you feel better on the spot by telling you what was not wrong," said Dr. Francis X. Carmody, a friend and Towson physician. "Because he knew so many of his patients and their extended families, over the years, he could give gentle reassurances."

During World War II, Dr. Stevens was a company physician for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Western Electric Co.

When asked for a family history what he believed was the most important event in his lifetime, Dr. Stevens replied, "The invention of penicillin."

For the first decade, he charged 50 cents for an office visit or a dollar for a house call. He drove Ramblers and later Oldsmobiles to see his patients, many of them living in Aero Acres and other Middle River neighborhoods. Patients who could not afford that would bring him food or gifts. His fee rose to $7 in the 1960s.

When a woman who accidentally ran over her son's leg carried him to the office, Dr. Stevens gathered long sticks from a coal bin and made a splint for the leg so that the child could be transported to a hospital.

His patient load grew to the thousands and spanned multiple generations of the families he served.

In 1990, he retired to Rehoboth Beach, Del., and became secretary for the Henlopen Condominium Council.

Dr. Stevens was a member of the Baltimore City Medical Society and the Masons' King David Lodge, Scottish Rite, Boumi Temple and Ocean City Shrine Club.

A memorial gathering will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Village Improvement Association building at Grenoble Street and the boardwalk in Rehoboth.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 40 years, the former Elizabeth A. Lawrence; two sons, David L. Stevens of Woodbine and William L. Stevens of Alexandria, Va.; and eight grandchildren. Two other sons are deceased: Craig B. Stevens, who died in 1994, and R. Scott Lawrence, who died in 1981.

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