LONG-TERM SUPPORTER OF LLUSM LEAVES COLORFUL LEGACY
By James Ponder
To call Frank William Shearer, MD, a long-term supporter of Loma Linda University School of Medicine is a serious understatement: when he died this year at the age of 107, Dr. Frank, as he was called, had been big on the school since the 1930s. During his life, he blazed the trail for his three brothers, his son, and granddaughter to graduate from LLUSM, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
Dr. Frank was an American original. Although the U.S. Census Bureau lists 53,364 centenarians in the United States, only one of them had his picture published waterskiing-at the age of 101, no less-in National Geographic. That one, of course, was Dr. Frank. The remarkable image even graced the front cover of the magazine's Turkish edition.
He stood out in other ways, too. Among them was the fact that he used no less than 10 different names throughout his lifetime.
Born Francis William Shearer on November 21, 1905, at Duck Lake in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, he was initially called Willie. He might have been Frank, but his father—who was also Francis Shearer—had adopted that as his own name. But when Willie started school, everyone called him Bill.
The name served him well from grade school, which he attended on the Shearer Farm, through high school at Battleford Academy, and then from Canadian Union College and Pacific Union College to the College of Medical Evangelists, as Loma Linda University was then known. But when he graduated with his MD degree in 1932, the man variously known as Frank, Willie, or Bill became simply Dr. Shearer.
At the conclusion of medical school, Dr. Shearer married Bernice Alice Deer, a Battleford classmate. The newlyweds had just 10 days to visit family members in Canada before taking off, in their 1925 Ford, for Seattle where Dr. Shearer took a one-year internship at Swedish Hospital. After that, the couple settled in Toppenish, Washington, where he opened a medical practice.
When World War II broke out, Dr. Shearer's career was growing along with his family. Raymond had been born during the Seattle internship, Marilene arrived a few years later in Toppenish, and Douglas joined the team in Carmel, California, while Dr. Shearer was serving the Army Air Corps in nearby Salinas. In the Army, Dr. Shearer added two new monikers to his growing collection—at first he was Captain Shearer, but a promotion in rank elevated him to Major.
When the war ended, Major Shearer and his family joyfully returned to Toppenish, elated that the conflict was over. In Toppenish, he reverted to civilian nomenclature as Dr. Shearer. Many of his friends just called him Doc. Either that or Doc Shearer.
The postwar baby boom hit Toppenish in a big way and Dr. Shearer could hardly keep pace with the burgeoning demand for his services. Babies were arriving all hours of the day and night. His brothers, Bob and Ed, also Loma Linda graduates, moved to town and joined the practice. Which meant, of course, that there were now three Drs. Shearers. To avoid confusion, they decided to be known as Dr. Bob, Dr. Ed, and Dr. Frank, respectively. Dr. Frank took the name change in stride. He thought it sounded better than Dr. Bill.
Life was good for the Shearer family in Toppenish. The bucolic Yakima Valley—which boasts four seasons, gorgeous natural scenery, and a Wild West cowboy and Indian heritage—was a great place to build a career and raise kids. But there was also a practical reason the family moved there during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
"Dad said he had seen many doctors who were unable to get paid in Seattle,"she shares, recalling her father's internship at Swedish Hospital. "He knew his family would never go hungry living in a farming community."
He was right. Doctors made house calls in those days, and Dr. Frank became very respected in the community for his courteous demeanor and generosity. He was frequently paid with chickens or produce for his services. "Those who could not afford medical care were never turned away,"Marilene relates.
In his spare time, Dr. Frank enjoyed the active outdoor life of the Pacific Northwest. He was an avid fisherman, hooking steelhead, salmon, and trout, and an adept hunter who filled his home with big-game trophies, including a grizzly bear, caribou, Dall ram, mountain lion, and javelina.
In the 1950s, Dr. Frank bought an airplane so he, Marilene, and Ray could learn to fly. Later, Doug also got his wings. Ray and Doug became physicians and joined the family's practice as Dr. Ray and Dr. Doug. With four pilots in the family, it was hard to keep the Shearers out of the skies. They flew all over the Northwest as well as to Canada, California, and Alaska.
Dr. Frank loved boats as well as planes. In the late 1930s, he purchased a Chris Craft powerboat and took up waterskiing. His first skis were 12-foot upturned planks with a pair of shoes nailed to the tops. Later, he bought a Century ski boat, which he skied behind at the age of 100. He enjoyed boating in the San Juan Islands, and once navigated a cabin cruiser through the Inside Passage to Alaska.
He also loved riding horses. After Marilene married Tim Foster, the couple moved to Tim's father's farm where they raised Hereford cattle. "Dad often helped with the cattle," Marilene shares, "gathering, sorting, moving, branding, and occasionally demonstrating a minor medical procedure. He was always fun to work with and never complained that it was too hot and dusty or cold and wet. Dad and Mom especially enjoyed riding after cattle in the mountain range in the summers. Dad was a natural horseman. He started playing polo in the mid-1930s and was an early member of the Toppenish Polo Club."
Dr. Frank and his mounted cohorts won the Northwest United States-Canadian Championship in 1939. The name of "Doc Shearer"appeared on the official bulletin again when the team took the title a second time 30 years later in 1969. Dr. Frank wasn't there in name only—he fought hard and helped the team win. Even after retiring from full-time medical practice in 1976, he rode horses on a regular basis, and was still hitting the ball from the saddle at the age of 104.
Sadly, Bernice—his loving companion of 64 years—passed away in 1996. Four years later, Dr. Frank, who was a youthful 95, married Hellyn Jackson Brown, an 89-year-old retired nurse anesthetist. He had first worked with Hellyn in the 1940s, and they met again at church. The family welcomed Hellyn into their circle, and joined Dr. Frank in mourning her passing in February of this year.
In his latter years, Dr. Frank began to think about giving back to the medical school that had laid the framework for his extraordinary career. He contacted the office of planned giving at Loma Linda University Health and set up a charitable gift annuity to benefit the LLU School of Medicine. He and his brother, Dr. Paul Shearer, donated the Shearer-Heidar Room at the Wong-Kerlee International Conference Center as a memorial to their parents.
In reflecting on the importance of alumni giving, Todd Mekelburg, director of planned giving, underscores the value of Dr. Frank's legacy.
"Loma Linda University Health recognizes the commitment people make when setting up estate gifts to benefit our organization,"Mr. Mekelburg observes." We feel privileged and grateful to have supporters such as Dr. Shearer who believe in our mission and goals."
For Dr. Frank, exploring the skies, rivers, mountains, and streams of his beloved Northwest was an integral part of the grand adventure of life. Leaving something to help others was a natural extension of the blessings he so thoroughly enjoyed.