John Doss, physician, epidemiologist, mariner, photographer, poetaster, world traveler, husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather, died peacefully in his sleep on November 4 at the age of 89.
He was born in Chicago, Ill. on March 30, 1923 and was raised in the suburbs of Chicago. John grew up poor and came of age during the Great Depression. He was endowed with the values of the Greatest Generation—work hard, live within your means, honor the family, and do well by your neighbors. He learned the frugal way and the safety of mattress money.
John started working at 10 years old as a newspaper delivery boy and sold enough subscriptions to The Saturday Evening Post to win a Schwinn bicycle. During his high school years he caddied and was a houseboy at the Oak Park Country Club. He was enrolled at Illinois Wesleyan University, studying pre-med and playing basketball when World War II broke out.
He served in the United States Maritime Service and trained as pharmacist mate and purser at Sheepshead Bay, N.Y. On completion he went by train to San Francisco and signed on as purser-pharmacist mate on the Liberty Ship, SS Frank C. Emerson, when she was launched from the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond. The voyage took him on a circumnavigation of the earth at age 21. After docking in New York City on June 11, 1944, he returned to San Francisco by train to complete the circumnavigation.
Dr. Doss then returned to the Pacific Theater and made a port of call in Honolulu as pharmacist mate and purser on the SS John Ross, another Liberty Ship. He returned to San Francisco and was reassigned to a new ship, a diesel electric powered vessel, the MV Cape Lopez. He was in Naha Harbor, Okinawa when hostilities ceased. The Lopez returned to Seattle and was immediately loaded with cargo for the west coast of South
John quit the sea, resumed premedical studies at Illinois Wesleyan in 1947, and married his life companion, Margot Patterson, a freelance writer and journalist who was working in Chicago as the Midwest editor of Seventeen Magazine.
When John started his medical studies at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1948, Margot continued her journalist career, writing for the Baltimore Sun Magazine Metrogravure. The first year at Hopkins was enlivened by the birth of their first son, Richard. Margot and many returning vets organized a young group of mothers and students known as “married with children.” They started a clothes bank, and Margot came up with the expression about working medical students and their wives, “We were so poor that we had to wash out our Kleenex.”
John graduated with a medical degree in 1952. An internship at Harriet Lane Home was the high point of his training at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. During this internship a second son, Alexander, was born. Afterwards John trained as an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Epidemic Intelligence Service in Atlanta. He served as an epidemiologist at the CDC Field Station in Kansas City, traveling through the middle west tracking an epidemic of polio during the early vaccine trials in 1953. He also served as an epidemiologist in 1954 with the State of California Health Department, in Berkeley.
He completed a pediatric residency at Stanford University Hospital, in San Francisco, in 1955 and 1956, during which a third son, John, arrived. Eighteen months later a fourth son, Gordon, completed the family. John started his medical practice with the Permanente Medical Group as a staff pediatrician. After 14 years of practice, he took leave and joined the San Francisco City Clinic and the county health department during a syphilis epidemic.
John, Margot and their sons settled in a Victorian townhouse on Russian Hill. John installed a photo lab and Margot continued her journalistic career, writing a column called “San Francisco at Your Feet” that appeared in the Sunday Magazine section of the Chronicle.
In 1974, John served as a consultant epidemiologist for the World Health Organization Small Pox Eradication Programme in India. He departed for New Delhi, where he searched out and contained small pox outbreaks in villages in Bihar State. He toured India and explored New and Old Delhi, Agra and the Taj Mahal, Madras, Bangalore and Bombay with Margot after completing his service in India. He returned to do a second term in Bangladesh in 1975.
From 1976 until 1990, Dr. Doss was a primary care physician in San Francisco’s Chinatown and served with the North East Medical Services. He domiciled in American Samoa for two years as Director of Maternal and Child Health at the LBJ Tropical Medical Center between 1982 and 1984.
The Doss family started going to Bolinas in the mid-60’s, renting houses for summer vacations, and bought property in 1968. They became involved in the bourgeois/bohemian atmosphere of West Marin and were members of the art and writer folk called bobos.
The family was active in Marin, San Francisco, California and national politics, engaging in freeway fights and participating in environmental showdowns. (John was hung in effigy for calling out the Bolinas Public Utilities District for dumping raw sewage into the Bolinas Lagoon.) The family went on peace marches, was friends to the Beat poets, and partook of most of the bohemian life that Northern California offered. John and Margot were board members to Actors Workshop and were active in the San Francisco Mid Century Poetry Renaissance. They hosted many poetry events at their home, and Margot was known as the “Den Mother to the Beat Poets.”
The family also became involved with the counter-culture scene happening in the Haight-Ashbury: The Digger Communication Company’s pamphleteering, free food distribution, the Free Store at Cole and Carl called “A Trip Without A Ticket.” John was involved in the beginnings of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic.
In 1988, after 34 years of living in San Francisco, the Russian Hill townhouse was sold and the family retired to their dream home in Bolinas.
In his retirement years John wrote a fictional memoir about life in American Samoa titled Uli’uli Masina (Black Moon) or Where the Hell is Pago Pago. His poetastery was published in On the Mesa, an Anthology of Bolinas Writing, City Lights Books (1971), and he wrote many geezer rants that appeared in the Bolinas Hearsay News.
Dr. Doss’s photographs appeared in I, Remain, Lew Welch’s letters; Hey Lew, a festschrift by Magda Cregg and friends; The Paper Propeller, by Arthur Okamura; Tricycle (The Buddhist Review); Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation; the San Francisco Chronicle under the nom de lens of D’Argent Calli; and as illustration photographs for Pacific Discovery, Country Magazine, ASU Travel Guide, Oceans and Pacific Magazine.
— Written by John Doss
He was predeceased by his wife of 55 years in 2003 and is survived by his son and daughter-in-law Richard and Annika Doss of San Francisco, son and daughter-in-law Alexander and Elaine Doss of Nicasio, son and daughter-in-law John and Debra Kay Doss of Carpenteria, son Gordon Doss of San Rafael; three grandchildren and their spouses: Bonnie Martin Huston and her husband, Aaron, of Gig Harbor, Wash., Gus Loren, a step-grandson, and his wife, Estelle, of New York City, and grandson Alex Durando Doss and his wife, Teal, of New Orleans; two great-grandsons, Andrew Huston and Grant Huston and great-granddaughter Elsie Leah Huston of Gig Harbor, Wash.
A memorial will be held for friends to come with a dish of food and memories of John to share at the Doss home on Horseshoe Hill in Bolinas on Sunday, November 25 from 1 to 4 p.m. Memorial donations can be made in John Doss’s name to the Coastal Health Alliance (www.coastalhealth.net).