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City Folk Mourn Country Doctor

L.A. STORIES: A slice of life in Southern California

March 09, 1994|RICK VANDERKNYFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Marcie Duthoy arrived at the hospital to have her third child, labor was advancing quickly and her obstetrician had yet to arrive. When the nurses urged her to push, Duthoy told them, "I'll wait."

And wait she did until her doctor, John Joseph Molitor, strolled in soon after. "He just said, 'OK, push,' and out she came . . ." Duthoy recalled with a smile eight years after the birth of her daughter, Christina. "You just saw those eyes over the mask and you knew everything was going to be all right."

Duthoy was one of about 200 people--family, friends, colleagues, patients--who jammed a banquet room at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton last week to share memories of Molitor at a reception following his funeral Mass. Molitor, 67, died abruptly of cardiac arrest Feb. 27, just months after retiring from his 36-year medical practice to teach full time.

As with many of those on hand, Duthoy's connection with Molitor was a family affair in more ways than one. Her mother, Bertha Cianteo, took Molitor as a doctor when she moved to Orange County from Ohio in 1960, and he delivered the last of her children--Mary Cianteo, now 30, who also attended the memorial with her mother and sister, Marcie.

"He was very patient with all us new moms," Marcie Duthoy said. "He'll be a tough act to follow."

Molitor--Jack to his friends--counted among his numerous professional accomplishments: past president of the Orange County Obstetrical and Gynecological Society and past chairman of the OB/GYN section of the California Medical Assn. He held volunteer faculty positions with USC and UC Irvine before joining the UCI staff full time just last July as a clinical professor.

But those who came to remember him dwelt less on his resume and more on his bedside manner. The picture that emerged was of a physician who knew and listened to his patients, a man who held onto his old-fashioned country doctor demeanor even as times grew more hectic and less personal.

"He would sit there and listen as if he had no other appointments," said Marie Keron, who was Molitor's patient from 1959 until his retirement. "He was a serious doctor, yet he had a wonderful sense of humor."

Molitor, who had eight children with his wife, Cynthia, delivered the last four of Keron's seven children. "It was a delight to have a doctor with as many kids as I had," she said.

His reputation for gentleness and for giving his full attention extended to co-workers. "He was as kind to the nurses as he was to the patients," said Eleanor Barr, who worked as a nurse at his private practice for 25 years.

"I've worked with hundreds of doctors over the years, and no one had anything bad to say about him," added Peachee Imlay, a nurse in labor and delivery at St. Jude since 1966.

*

John Stehly's first memory of Molitor was of their days at Los Angeles County General Hospital. It was back in 1953. Stehly was a resident and Molitor was one of his interns, fresh out of medical school at Loyola University in Chicago. Stehly told Molitor of a new hospital planned for the sleepy but growing bedroom community of Fullerton, and of his own plans to start a private practice there in obstetrics and gynecology.

"I saw in him a fantastic man," Stehly said. "I was the one who talked him into going into OB." Molitor went back to Chicago to do his residency, then took Stehly's invitation to join his "rural" Fullerton practice in 1958, one year after the opening of St. Jude.

In the beginning, the two doctors carried out 75 deliveries a month, split between three area hospitals. "We dared each other to take a vacation," Stehly said. Molitor delivered the last three of Stehly's children and Stehly reciprocated by delivering the last four of Molitor's children.

Eventually, they worked only at St. Jude, and in 1964 they added a third partner, Edwin B. Whiting. The partnership held together until the doctors began retiring in the late '80s. "Many, many practices broke up along the way. Ours just hung in there," Whiting recalled last week. Molitor, he said, "was the glue that held it together."

*

Jack Molitor came to Fullerton in the midst of a population boom that would take it from an isolated outpost of less than 14,000 in 1950 to a booming suburb of more than 56,000 in 1960. That growth continued, leading to today's sprawling university town of nearly 120,000.

Molitor was at the front lines of the baby boom that helped populate north Orange County, and his memorial was well-attended by former patients as well as a scattering of those he helped bring into the world. Several patients said they attended out of a need to talk with others who knew him.

"I just admired him," said Diana Golden, a patient for 32 years. "He listened. He was always interested in more than my physical condition."

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