Dr. John Wells Jr.

[ Age 92 ] Anesthesiologist was known as a teacher, enthusiastic sailor, pilot and model-ship builder.

May 28, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,Sun reporter

Dr. John Bernard Wells Jr., an anesthesiologist who loved classical music, sailing and explaining everything from human anatomy to how to build sailboats by drawing diagrams on napkins and pillowcases, died of prostate cancer Thursday at his son's home in Millersville. He was 92.

Dr. Wells was born in Baltimore, the son of the late J. Bernard Wells, a former state's attorney for Baltimore. He grew up in a musical family where everyone played an instrument or sang. Dr. Wells learned to play the flute, and as a physician stationed in Marseille, France, during World War II, he had the opportunity to take some lessons with celebrated French flutist Jean-Pierre-Louis Rampal. He also absorbed his mother's talent and love of painting.

He grew up in Pimlico, the fourth of six children. His mother was frail with tuberculosis when he was young, so he was raised by his older sisters, who let him roam around Baltimore while they minded the home. His love of sailing started early, when he explored shipyards and talked with work crews about how ships worked - their engineering and design fascinated him. When his father bought a 43-foot yacht, Dr. Wells quickly learned how to sail and took his family on trips across the Chesapeake Bay and to the Jersey Shore. He later remodeled that boat and kept it well into his 80s.

Dr. Wells' curiosity didn't just help him sail - it made him a strong student at Loyola High School, where he excelled in biology. He graduated in 1932, earned his bachelor's degree at Loyola College and continued his education at the University of Maryland, where he earned his M.D. in 1941. He spent his internship and first year of residency at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York, where he met Elizabeth Clare Warren of Wyncote, Pa. They got married in 1943 and raised five children together before their marriage ended in 1965. Mrs. Wells died in 1999.

After serving as a captain in the Army Medical Corps during World War II, Dr. Wells resumed his medical residency at St. Joseph Hospital and then transferred to Franklin Square Hospital to specialize in anesthesia. In 1958, he joined the staff at Church Home and Hospital in East Baltimore.

Dr. James Biles was a 27-year-old resident going through an anesthesia rotation when he met Dr. Wells. He said Dr. Wells was a patient and thorough teacher, given to long, colorful explanations of surgeries. He did the same with patients, helping them understand a surgery by drawing detailed diagrams on pillowcases.

"He was assiduously analytical and detailed about everything he did," said Dr. Biles, a urologic surgeon in Annapolis. "He loved truth and understanding everything around him. He could boil down into the simplest explanation for the most complex thing."

Dr. Wells spent his free time sailing, flying his airplane and working at the woodshop in his turn-of-the-century home.

Dr. Wells retired in 1986. He spent his retirement building a fleet of about 20 large wooden models of sailing vessels, using only pictures and his knowledge of the ships' original construction to guide his work. He painstakingly cut each plank for the hull and deck by hand, bending it to fit. Every mast was precisely carved, and every knot in the rigging in place. He enjoyed working on his home in Cedar Croft, and regularly met family members for breakfasts and picnics.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. today at the Mitchell Wiedefeld Funeral Home in Towson. The family is planning a memorial Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Charles Street next month.

Dr. Wells is survived by five children, Frances Wells Neely, C. Jameson Wells, John B. Wells III, Timothy A. Wells and Barry H. Wells; eight grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.


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