Dr. John C. Carson was among the last of a rare breed, doctors who make house calls.
"Walking inside someone's home, you can tell more about them in five minutes than you can in the office for an hour," the cardiologist said in a 2014 interview. "That is how I get to know my patients and they get to know me."
Carson was 87 when he retired. Age hadn't forced him to conclude a 53-year career with the Scripps medical system. Instead, he was sidelined by creaky knees, the result of decades of running.
"It's now difficult to stand to see my patients," he said. "How lucky I've been to be able to do what I love!"
Carson's good fortune continued until April 17, when he died at the age of 92.
"He was in control of his life to the last moment," said a son, Lee Carson.
In his final weeks, aware that he would soon succumb to prostate and bladder cancer, he distributed many prized possessions to family, friends and even acquaintances. When friends stopped at his home to say farewell, Carson urged them to take home a keepsake.
"See something you like?" he asked one his last visitors. "Take it. I can't take it with me."
In the past week, people who were unable to visit were surprised by packages arriving in the mail.
"He used that time to ship out books and bow ties and literally tell people what they meant to him," said a daughter, Barbara Edwards. "The legacy he leaves to all of us is that relationships with people matter more than anything."
Born in Wichita, Kan., on Jan. 10, 1927, John Congleton Carson attended the Taft School in Watertown, Conn., where he developed a lifelong passion for poetry, novels and history. He enlisted in the military after graduating, spending the final months of World War II with the U.S. Army Medical Corps at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
Honorably discharged in 1946, he earned a degree in English literature at Yale and then an M.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. After practicing medicine in Pennsylvania, New York and Kansas, he took a job with Scripps in 1960. He and his wife, Elizabeth "Libby" Hill Carson, moved their family to La Jolla despite misgivings.
"We were worried about raising our children in Southern California," he said, "worried about it being a rootless society."
There was little chance of the Carson children losing track of their roots. Carson delighted in instructing his offspring in national, local and family heritage. "On driving trips across country," Barbara Edwards said, "we stopped at what were, for kids, a frightening number of cemeteries."
He instilled a strong sense of right and wrong, setting high expectations. "The worst thing you could do was disappoint him," Lee Carson said. "If you disappointed him, as we did on many occasions, that was enough, believe me."
The children grew up in a Spanish-style house overflowing with 19th century memorabilia, including oxen yokes, a Civil War bullet mold and antique potato mashers, the latter suspended from the ceiling.
Books, which Carson bought by the boxload, spilled from shelves and piled up in corners. At his death, he belonged to the Johnsonians of New York and the Samuel Johnson Society of Southern California, organizations devoted to the 18th century British essayist and lexicographer; the Zamarano Club of Los Angeles, a bibliophiles' group; and the Grolier Club, a New York retreat for book lovers.
He also served on the board of the Bishop's School; the Friends of the Library at UC San Diego; the American Osler Society, a group that honors a 19th century medical pathfinder, Sir William Osler; and the George Dock Society for the History of Medicine.
Despite these interests, Carson was not always buried in a book or consumed by meetings.
"When we were kids we thought he should be mayor," Lee Carson said. "He knew everybody and everybody liked him and respected him. He was very active in the community and in the hospital and had patients who would bring him gifts at Christmas time. He was like an old-school doctor."
At Scripps Memorial Hospital, which opened the year he was hired, Carson served as chief of medicine (1967-68) and chief of staff (1974-75). In 2008, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Scripps Health Foundation.
Even after retiring, Carson attended weekly grand rounds at the hospital.
"Most guys when they retire, they just check out from their practice and their patients," said Dr. Richard Unger, an anesthesiologist and one of Carson's friends. "John didn't do that at all."
He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Elizabeth Hill Carson; daughters Elizabeth Carson Pastan (Stephen) of Atlanta, and Barbara Carson Edwards (Scott) of La Jolla; sons John Carson Jr. (Suki) of St. Petersburg, Fla., Lee Hill Carson (Glenna) of Ross, and David Bradford Carson (Regina) of Roanoke, Va.; a sister, Virginia Garver of Wichita, Kan.; and 18 grandchildren.
A celebration of life is scheduled for 2 p.m. June 15 at the Schaetzel Center at Scripps Memorial Hospital, 9890 Genesee Ave., San Diego. Donations to the Dr. Carson Tribute Fund, benefiting Scripps Memorial Hospital, can be mailed to Scripps Health Foundation, P.O. Box 2669, La Jolla, Calif. 92038, or online at http://www.scripps.org/giving.
This article is written by Peter Rowe from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.