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Honoring Dr. Leary

By Mark Frost, Chronicle Editor

Dr. Jack Leary, whose medical career ranged from running a 1,000-bed hospital in Vietnam during the war to 14 years as president of the medical staff at Glens Falls Hospital, was honored for his lifetime of service in a medical staff banquet at Erlo-west in Lake George on May 15.

The Hudson Falls native board-certified in pediatrics, emergency medicine and anesthesiology has variously been an emergency room physician at Glens Falls Hospital, school doctor in South Glens Falls and Hudson Falls, partner in Warren Anesthesiology and founder of Adirondack Nautilus, is also a walking history of Glens Falls Hospital and its biggest advocate.

In what he dubbed his “farewell speech,” Dr. Leary detailed a long list of Glens Falls Hospital breakthroughs and achievement.

Dr. Jack Leary, left, the long-time president of the medical staff at Glens Falls Hospital, with his successor Dr. Sean Bain, at a May 15 banquet that honored his lifetime of community service. Dr. Leary went into travel mode after his successor (who changed clothes for the announcement) presented the Learys a gift trip to Napa Valley wine country in California, complete with appropriate bottle and gear. Chronicle photo/Mark Frost

“It was the first hospital in the state of New York to offer Day Surgery,” said Dr. Leary. “We were the first to have full-time ER physicians in the Capital District. We are also the first to have an ICU/CCU in the Capital District.

“We were first in the State, outside of academic centers, to have a radiation cobalt unit. In the 80s, we had the first orthopedic surgeon to do arthroscopic surgery in the Capital Distirct.

“In the early 90s, we pioneered laparoscopic surgery in the Capital District. Our Oncology Center has always been the best in class in the entire area.”

Dr. Leary said the hospital continues its high level of achievement today.

“We have the best, most cohesive, most participatory Medical Staff in the area,” he said. “We have quality expertise in every area.

“The Medical Staff leadership is superb and dedicated. That includes our president Sean Bain [Dr. Leary’s successor], our treasurer John Byrne and our vice-president Dean Reali, as well as all the members of MEC.

He said of Dr. Howard Fritz, who now heads the hospital administration medically, that he “is one of us and is our guardian angel. He is the link that holds things together between the Medical Staff and Administration.

“The Hospital Board is the best, most dynamic we’ve had in the 40 years that I’ve been here.

“The Administration is thoroughly excellent. Our CEO [Dianne Shugrue] is absolutely the best we could have in that position at this particularly crucial point in time. We are very fortunate.”

He added a “footnote” — that “when I say medical staff, I believe we can substitute the term clinical staff, which includes the nurses and the rest of the ancillary support, which we are the best in the area.”

Dr. Leary noted that his wife Nancy is an especially accomplished physician. He said, “In the 80s, when AIDS was epidemic…her research and her publication in the New England Journal [of Medicine] changed everything” in treating infants of HIV-positive mothers. Dr. Leary said, “There used to be 400 new cases of neonatal AIDS yearly in New York State. It is now less than five a year. That is due in large part to her efforts.” Chronicle photo/Mark Frost

Dr. Leary said, “We are more that just a community hospital that serves one community like Saratoga Hospital. We are a regional center…I therefore suggest that we should add the word ‘Regional’” to make it “Glens Falls Regional Medical Center.”

Dr. Leary praised not just the hospital but the whole region — from having “been blessed with natural resources in abundance: water, hydroelectric power, forests, recreational facilities, etc.” to celebrating the local legacy of pioneering enterprise. He mentioned Jim West, whose company TV Data created computerized television listings, which is still done locally at Nielsen; Dave Sheridan and Phil Morse, who invented medical devices; Charles Wood, who created Storytown and “then Hole in the Woods with Paul Newman,” the Double H camp in Lake Luzerne that provides free vacations for critically ill children.

Dr. Leary even worked in a reference to local legendary basketball stars “Jimmer Fredette and Joe Girard III.” He noted of JG3, “I played on some of the teams with his grandfather, affectionately known as Jo Jo.”

Dr. Leary took the moment to offer a pointed remark about the daily newspaper. He said, “The Post-Star did an excellent job in following Girard’s career and reflecting the pride the community takes in his accomplishments. Unfortunately, The Post-Star hasn’t seemed to take that same pride in our accomplishments.”

Dr. Leary said, “We are truly the Hospital for the entire region. Every community in our service area should be proud of us and root for our successes.”

Praise of Dr.Leary, glimpses of his life

Several speakers spoke of their admiration for Dr. Leary — of his willingness constantly to pitch in on hospital committees and community endeavors, both with his time and his money. Note was taken of Dr. Leary’s ability to win other people’s involvement even without their realizing that he’d set out to sell them on the idea.

Dr. Leary’s personal tales and experience unfolds endlessly. From Hudson Falls, he went to college at Holy Cross, then to medical school at Georgetown.

“Back in the summer of ’67, I was a community organizer in California, in Haight Ashbury [in San Francisco] and the Central Valley, working with migrant laborers, both legal and illegal. There, I encountered Cesar Chavez, leader of the grape pickers; Saul Alinsky, the notorious communist labor organzier, and was even part of a small group who had dinner with Joan Baez.

“After medical school, I volunteered for Vietnam and then for Special Forces. There I served with the finest, bravest group of men I had the privilege to have been associated with. Look up Major Dick Meadows.

“Moving on, I returned to Glens Falls, as one of the first ER doctors. This is truly a special place.”

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