Dr. Walter Ray Hepner III, 55, family-practice physician


Dr. Walter Ray "Sandy" Hepner III, a Baltimore County family practice physician who enjoyed the outdoors, died of cancer Thursday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Hydes resident was 55.

Born in Chicago, he moved to Baltimore with his family in 1959 and was a 1968 graduate of McDonogh School. He attained the rank of Eagle Scout with Troop 35, based at Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, and helped renovate the Captain Steele House on Fell Street in Fells Point, where he resided with his parents until about 30 years ago.

He also learned to play the oboe and spent three summers as a canoe guide in wilderness sections of Ontario.

Dr. Hepner earned a bachelor's degree at the U.S. International University in San Diego, where he indulged in a lifelong enthusiasm for scuba diving in kelp beds. He earned his medical degree in 1976 from the University of Maryland, where his father was chairman of the department of pediatrics.

Dr. Hepner did his residency in family practice at Franklin Square Hospital Center and was named chief resident in his final year there.

"He was a bright and a good, caring physician," said Dr. William Reichel, former chairman of the family medicine department at Franklin Square, who supervised him.

Dr. Hepner established a medical practice in northern Baltimore County and was on the staffs of Fallston General Hospital, Greater Baltimore Medical Center and Franklin Square. He had been medical director at the Broadmead Retirement Community in Cockeysville.

He also worked with patients who suffered chronic pain and medical issues that were difficult to manage.

"He was willing to tackle difficult problems," said his wife of nearly 23 years, Dr. Kathryn Yamamoto, an emergency medicine physician at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air.

After about 20 years in private practice, Dr. Hepner changed the focus of his work to patients in nursing homes, a group he felt was underserved by his profession.

"He took the time to talk to you, to get to know you personally," said Nancy Foltz, a former patient.

"He was a top-notch doctor, thorough and caring," said Nancy Mylin, another former patient.

In his free time, he maintained an extensive flower garden - and mastered the Latin botanical names for his numerous perennials - in addition to enjoying sailing, fishing, hunting and diving. More recently, he took up ballroom dancing.

Dr. Hepner developed melanoma, a form of skin cancer, in 2002. He underwent several surgeries and chemotherapy. He saw his last patient in September last year.

Services were held Sunday at Chestnut Grove Presbyterian Church in Phoenix, where he was a member.

Survivors also include a son, David Shigeru Hepner-Yamamoto, and two daughters, Elizabeth Rhea Hepner-Yamamoto and Alannah Hepner-Yamamoto, all at the family home; his mother, Jean Harvey Hepner of Baltimore; two brothers, James Hepner of Towson and Richard Hepner of Ardmore, Pa.; and a sister, Susan Howard Brennan of Towson


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