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He treated 'everybody's kids' in Tampa

The beloved Tampa pediatrician was known for his genuine concern for his patients and his kindness to all he met.

By AMY SCHERZER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 3, 2003

Dr. James M. San

BEACH PARK -- When James M. San opened his pediatric practice on the edge of downtown Tampa in 1949, the street wasn't yet called Kennedy Boulevard. And the Lafayette Arcades, now home to an upscale restaurant, were a place to treat chicken pox.

Dr. San, Tampa's fourth pediatrician, died Dec. 26 in Canterbury Towers on Bayshore Boulevard after a lengthy illness. He was 80.

"Dad treated everybody's kids in South Tampa," said his son Greg San, a cardiologist in Greenville, S.C. "His whole life was wrapped up in his practice."

San, an expert on childhood poisoning, moved to 3014 Estrella St. where he took care of sick children for decades before relocating to 2602 Azeele St., where he practiced until retiring in 1990.

A charter member and past president of the Florida Pediatric Society, he presided over the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatric from 1974-75. From 1980-89, he was medical director of the Hillsborough County Child Abuse Council.

"The four of us were so proud to be his kids," said Greg, speaking on behalf of his siblings: Louis J. II of Chicago, Harriet of Largo, and John of Tampa.

"He was tall and distinguished looking, with an infectious laugh," recalled colleague Phillip Adler, three-time president of the Hillsborough County Pediatric Society. "He was very well-liked; no one ever had a bad word to say about Jim."

"He was sharp to the end," said John San. "Even during his worst days, he was asking for his subscription to Scientific American."

A native of Roanoke, Va., James San moved to St. Petersburg with his parents, Louis and Eleanor, during the Depression. He graduated from St. Petersburg High School at age 16, then continued his education and earned his medical degree in 1944 at Duke University.

There, he met and married nurse Mary Alice Fisher, who died in March.

"They were quite a pair," said Greg. "Mom was an outgoing, athletic girl of Scottish-Irish stock from Clayton, Ga. Dad was an erudite, Eastern seaboard-type son of a Polish immigrant."

To his youngest son, John, San was a living encyclopedia.

"He knew science, music, art, literature, philosophy, and American history, especially the Revolutionary War. George Washington was his hero," John San said.

Daughter Harriet remembers his reading Edgar Allan Poe aloud.

"And we'd all chorus, 'Nevermore,' " she said.

The two were married in 1945. Mrs. San stayed in North Carolina until Dr. San completed his military service in 1947. A U.S Army captain, he served as a medical officer in a small village in the Philippines. He returned for a year of postgraduate training at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, followed by another year of pediatric training at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. Mrs. San worked as a nurse in both cities.

They settled in Tampa to be near Dr. San's parents, rearing their four children in a four-bedroom ranch home in Beach Park. When the kids were grown, Mrs. San went to work as her husband's office nurse.

Friends like Viola Hershom, 83, will never forget Dr. San's devotion to his young patients, including her son, Thayer, who was born about six weeks premature. The Hershoms and Sans were longtime neighbors.

"Thayer was a tiny, tiny one, with problems breathing and eating," said Hershom. "Jim came over and checked on him every morning before he left for the office, he came home at lunch time and every night."

Even when the Sans went on vacation in Georgia, Hershom recalled, his patients found him. If they were anywhere near -- perhaps taking kids to camp -- he'd tell them to drop by.

"He'd open the back of the station wagon and check them out," Hershom said.

Despite his seven-day-a-week schedule, the Sans made time for socializing, quite often with other physicians and their wives.

"I knew Jim from Mirror Lake Junior High," said Jane Hewitt. "I went over to meet Mary Alice as soon as they moved here and we connected instantly." Hewitt invited her new friend to join her monthly lunch bunch, the So and Sews.

"We never did do any sewing," said Hewitt. For 50 years the little club celebrated each others' family milestones. Spouses joined them often, and frequently, children did, too. Other So and Sews included Patsy Sumner, Sally Coffer, Frances Bagby, Anne Winslow and Margo Krusen.

Recalling a visit to the pediatrician with one of her children, Hewitt pictured San in a bow tie and suspenders.

"He thought his little patients would like that better than a white lab coat," said Hewitt.

Sharon Pizzo remembered the ties, too, along with the sound advice.

"When one of the kids got a cold," said Pizzo, "Jim told me to put two big dictionaries under the crib and rub on the Vicks."

Retired Tampa internist Ernie Reiner knew where the Sans spent every July 28: with him and four other friends who shared that birthday.

"When we found out that six of us had the same birthday, including Mary Alice, we celebrated together for many, many years," Reiner recalled fondly. The other four born on July 28 were Anne Winslow, Leffie Carlton Jr., Hank Wright and Sam Hibbs.

Dr. San is survived by his four children; three granddaughters, Eleanor and Rebecca San of Chicago and Tegan Twedt of Largo, and twin sister, Barbara Holbrook, of Manhattan.

-- Amy Scherzer can be reached at 226-3332 or .

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