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Vernon Gee

Biography written by his brother, Merrill K. Gee

Vernon Ray Gee, youngest of five sons born to William Erastus and Mary Ellen Kerr Gee arrived September 17, 1920 at Rexburg, Madison County, Idaho. He was a precocious child. At four he was seen dragging a milk bucket almost as large as he - proudly exhibiting a few cups of Holstein' finest. "Where did you get that?" Reply: "From it"--pointing to the largest cow! "You mean she just stood there and let you take it?" (She was a notorious kicker who frequently had to be hobbled to permit milking. She seemed to sense when the pail was near full--then she too often elected to step in or kick over the bucket.) "Well Mister milkman, why didn't you fill up that pail?" Reply: "Igin-ga all got-ed it." (Igin-ga is the four-year old translation of brother Ivin's name.) At age five he was busy "reading" a newspaper and suddenly asked "Why do they have `sockity` in all the papers? "Sockity? show me what you mean." He pointed a chubby finger at the prominent word `S O C I E T Y`. He tackled tasks beyond his years most of his life.

He was nine when the family moved from Rexburg to Pocatello. At Lincoln School he was skip-promoted from fifth to seventh grade--making him usually the youngest of fellow classmates. In Junior and Sr. High schools he played trombone, was in bands and vocal ensembles and as soloist; performed in multiple musical and dramatic productions; gleaned academic and good-citizenship awards. He entered U. of Idaho, Southern Branch (now Idaho State University) at age 16 and graduated with High Honors (4.0 GPA) and a B.S. degree in Pharmacy and offers of scholarships and fellowships -- all before Age 20. How he found time to study is a puzzle. He appeared and often starred in a host of roles in a constant string of dramatic and musical presentations and pageants; was college radio announcer and officer in three fraternities. His dramatic coach urged him to: 1. always emphasize the rich, lower registers of his bass voice, and 2. abandon the staid, stuffy, monotonous role as pharmacist in favor of a promised lucrative, exciting, endlessly varied and fulfilling career in the theater and Music Halls. He did the former--declined the latter. During high school summers he did arduous field labors at uncles' ranch in Upper Sand Creek--north of St. Anthony. Later, summer services involved housekeeping and dance band duties in Yellowstone Park and part-time pharmacy stints.

In Summer 1941 he became a registered and practicing Pharmacist in Montpelier, Idaho, and later accepted the more appealing of several offers: a teaching fellowship at the University of Illinois, College of Pharmacy, working toward an advanced degree in Pharmacology. In March 1943 he entered the Medical School of Northwestern University, Chicago. July 1943 brought induction into the accelerated, full-time, year-round Army Medical Corps training at Northwestern University. He graduated as M.D. with honors and Golden Key on March 17, 1946. On March 19, 1946 he married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Baldwin, daughter of the Dean of UISB.

Internship at Boston City Hospital began April 8, 1946. Residency followed in July 1947. It soon became apparent that surgery was not an option. He developed raging allergies to surgical scrubs, gloves, powders, anesthetics and all related paraphernalia. Dr. Vernon Gee was forced to wear heavy canvas-like, lined gloves and masks. (One could but wonder the effect upon the multitude of his patients from such an un-medical apparition at bedside. He diverted from a hoped-for surgical residency toward Radiology. That pursuit was fore-shortened when, in July 1945, the US Army Medical Corps summoned him to active duty at San Antonio and Fort Lewis before embarkation for Tokyo, Japan. There he was posted to the 361st Army Hospital, and to maneuvers with the First Cavalry. A memorable and distinguished hospital patient was a decorated Japanese General and gentleman named Takasawa. He was a Prisoner of War--not a criminal, and was entitled to and given top grade care. His medical malady had escaped diagnosis until Vernon researched and ran a more detailed battery of tests. Diagnosis: rare form of Diabetes which he treated successfully--with the life-long gratitude and friendship of the General and his family. That learned gentleman was a most helpful interpreter for Vernon in his treatment of other patients.

The call to Battle sounded in July 1950, when Dr. Gee was summoned to another Hospital-M.A.S.H. (Military Advanced Station Hospital) close to the front lines of the Korean War. To the surprise and amazement of all--especially himself-the omni-present surgical trappings did not provoke the feared and expected Boston-born allergies. For many grueling hours each day he tirelessly performed the fullest measure of advanced area emergency surgeries--was awarded the Bronze Star and promoted to field rank--Major.

When Vernon returned from Korea duty the General had a basket of fruit, flowers, a welcome note and invitation to celebrate a reunion waiting in the hotel room. (When Vernon, Alyce and Daughter later returned to Tokyo for an international Radiology convention, similar greetings and the full royal treatment awaited. Tokens of respect, admiration and gratitude were continued by the five surviving sons of the one-time patient--long-time friend-- especially at and continuing after Vernon's death.)

Duty rotation was followed by assignment to Veteran's Hospital Spokane. Here, the old Boston nemesis reared up with fury and dictated the course. No more surgery! He accepted a radiology fellowship at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota in January 1952. National Exams were completed in March 1955. Vernon received an advanced Medical Degree with Honors from the University of Minnesota on July 15, 1955. This was followed by appointment to the Mayo Clinic Radiology Staff.

During this period a nurse in a Mayo-affiliated Hospital hastily, carelessly or ignorantly pierced and injected an alien and necrotic fluid into one of Barbara's major motor nerves. The sequelae pursued and agonized her the remainder of her days. This may have strongly influenced the decision to "go West."

Immediately after his name and number appeared in San Francisco directories Vernon was deluged with calls attached to Oriental accents and language demanding Dr. Gee provide prompt directions for Chinese herbs and allied treatments. He faced three alternatives: change his name; learn a new language and medical art; flee Baghdad-by-the-Bay. He considered each and opted for the latter -- a clinic with three other Radiologists in Redding, Northern California. Here he and Barbara bought a comfortable and spacious home overlooking the River. Lure of the mountains beckoned--there as in Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and Alaska. The cherished hobby of mountaineering came crashing in a climbing injury to his leg. The love affair with out-dooring turned him to deep concern about and activities involving environment, clean air, water and responsible conservation. He threw himself into leadership roles with respected advocacy and civic groups; took advance training in nuclear medicine at Mayo Clinic; rode the circuit bringing high-tech medical services to clinics and hospitals in remote Northern California areas; twice volunteered for physician and training services in schools and hospitals in war-scarred Saigon, Vietnam. Twice he boarded and served on the Hospital Ship "Hope" plying Brazilian waters. The medical community and recipient agencies and individuals honored him for such.

Barbara's traumatic injury plagued their mutual lives. She bravely bore the uninterrupted suffering and progressive disability until her merciful departure on November 15, 1962. She is buried near family members in Mt. Olive Cemetery, Pocatello.

During the Tokyo times Barbara and Vernon developed close friendships with a fellow Army physician, Dr. Robert Chestnut, his wife Alyce, and their children. Their youngest daughter was given the first name, Barbara.

Following the Chestnut divorce and Barbara's passing, the Tokyo acquaintance was renewed, and on June 15, 1963, Mrs. Alyce Virginia Benard Chestnut and Dr. Vernon Ray Gee were married in Long Beach. Guests included the bride's children, Ginnie, Barbara and Robert, her brothers, sisters and numerous other relatives and friends and two of the groom's brothers and their wives.

Many foreign exchange students blossomed from the cordiality, hospitality, intellectual stimulation, financial assistance and enduring friendships emanating from that home-by-ye-river.

On December 23, 1974 after a late evening-out dinner Vernon remained in the car listening to Christmas music on the radio. Alyce went inside and retired. Early in the morning she was awakened by the barking of the family dog. Alyce found Vernon unconscious on the garage floor near the car. Help was instantly summoned from a neighboring physician and the Fire Department Rescue Unit. Neither they nor the Hospital was able to revive him from the effects of an apparent heart-related-oxygen-deprived brain-death. He was pronounced dead at 11:00 A.M. Widow Alyce, daughters Ginnie and Barbara, four Gee brothers, their companions and children survived him. So also do cherished memories and recollections of a lifetime of loving, caring, generous devotion to a goodly share of "Sockity."

As he had done so many times before, Vernon graduated early--with Honors!