ILWACO - Say the name Dr. Neace to anyone who's lived on the Peninsula for many years, and you'll hear warm stories about one of the last great old-time physicians, a man who always put his patients first.
After a period of declining health, Dr. Lewis Neace died at home in Ilwaco Sunday at age 95, having seen enormous changes in health care during 51 years in medical practice - most of it here.
Longtime Peninsula physician Dr. John Campiche said Neace "was probably the best clinician I ever knew. He was an old-fashioned type of doctor and a bedside expert. He didn't rely on technology as much as on physical examinations and patient history and his knowledge of medicine."
Campiche and Neace were partners in a medical practice for several years in the 1950s.
Although Neace was a "strangely self-centered man," Campiche said, he "never knew of anyone who called upon him and he didn't come. He complained about the fact that a lot of people couldn't pay, but he saw them anyway. He never turned anyone down for lack of payment. In the richest sense of the word, he was a real doctor in terms of service."
Although Neace was a wealthy man, Campiche said he never "indulged in much luxury. He didn't travel. He didn't buy fancy cars. He lived in a simple house. He worked an average of 80 to 90 hours a week. That was his life. He was generous and gave of himself enormously."
Campiche said the only time Neace ever slept restfully "was in the back of a movie house. When he couldn't get away from constant work, he'd go to the movie in Ilwaco and sleep.
"The smartest thing he ever did was to marry his second wife, Iris," Campiche said.
As a surgeon in New Caledonia during the war, Neace "knew more about trauma treatment than anyone I ever knew," Campiche said. "He never saw anyone smashed up that he didn't think could be fixed. He had a lot of knowledge of all the diseases that existed and how they manifested themselves. I saw him do things in surgery that were simply laudable and that took a lot of courage and ability."
Long Beach resident Ross Glasson said he remembered his whole family going to Neace's office above the present-day bingo parlor in Ilwaco when he was growing up. "He was a good person," Glasson said. "We didn't have a lot of money when I was growing up and I remember my dad saying he just got one bill paid off, then another kid got sick."
Mary Ann Markham, 87, is a retired registered nurse who worked with Neace for many years at his clinic and at the hospital. "He was an excellent surgeon," she remembered. "I watched him look at a terrible broken bone and he'd stand there in front of the X-ray and move his hands this way and that way, then he'd go through the same motions on the patient and snap that bone right back in place. I never saw anything like it."
Markham said her daughter always called Neace a healer, not only a doctor. "She always made that differentiation with him," she said. "He was a healer because he cared more for patients than just treating an incident of illness. He knew the whole family and would follow the diseases in his mind and ask how they were doing."
If she could go back in time, Markham said, "I'd be happy if I could just be in surgery with Dr. Neace and Dr. Campiche. Those two men took care of everything that came along. They did it all. I got more education with them than I got in nurses' training. It's a tradition gone. Things will never be the same. Dr. Neace was a great man."
Another retired registered nurse, Bessie Braschuk, worked with Neace at the hospital for about 20 years. She retired in 1972. "He was one of the nicest doctors I ever worked with," she said. "He was so considerate and understanding and always had time to explain things to you. He was a kind man."
Braschuk, 93, saidNeace treated all his patients alike, "millionaires and paupers, it didn't make any difference. He always had time to explain things to you. I enjoyed every day of it."