Richard H. Mabie, MD

Pediatrician, father, lover of the outdoors

Dr. Richard H. Mabie, a pediatrician and longtime Claremont resident, died Saturday, January 26, 2013 following a long battle with cancer. He was 82.

He was born December 21, 1930 in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin to Henry “Harry” Mabie Jr. and Ellen Smollen Mabie.

Along with their home in Fond du Lac, Dr. Mabie’s family had a cottage on Lake Winnebago and each summer while he was growing up, his family would pack up their belongings and move to the lake. It was a ritual that likely spurred his lifelong passion for nature.

His father died of pancreatic cancer when he was only 13, but that did not stop Dr. Mabie from striving for success. He attended St. Joseph’s for elementary and junior high and then went on to St. Mary’s Springs Academy. After graduating from high school in 1948, he studied premed at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He graduated from Marquette University School of Medicine in 1955.

It was at Marquette that he met his beloved wife Kathleen. They were paired in biology lab by alphabet, her maiden name being McGowan. With his degree in medicine, hers in botany, and a powerful faith in God, they married. 

Dr. Mabie enlisted in the United States Navy and interned at the US Naval Hospital in Great Lakes, Illinois from 1955 to 1956. The Mabies were then stationed together at the US Naval Hospital in Sasebo, Japan. Dr. Mabie was chief of the outpatient department there, serving honorably and being promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.

Upon returning to the United States in 1958, they moved to California, where Dr. Mabie worked as a physician at Daniel Freeman Hospital in Inglewood and then undertook his pediatric residency at Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles. In 1961, Dr. Mabie joined the pediatric practice of the well-respected Pomona physician Dr. John Wilcox, where he had the honor of working with some of the finest pediatricians in the region, his family recalled. He cared for generations of children before his retirement in 2000.

Dr. Mabie’s children noted that everywhere they go, they run into former patients and their families.

Once, his son Bill Mabie, who at the time was a Peace Corps recruiter, was in the career center at UC San Diego when he experienced yet another instance of the “I-knew-your-dad” phenomenon.

“Someone mentioned my name out loud, and a woman heard and asked, ‘Are you related to Dr. Mabie?’” he recalled. “She went on to tell a wonderful story about when her daughter was sick and she had no money. My dad took care of them and said, ‘You can pay me $5 a month—don’t worry about it.’”

As unusual as the story may sound, his son said it exemplified Dr. Mabie’s lifelong ethos.

“He was a very generous man—very much of an old-school physician,” Bill said. “He was in medicine for the right reasons. He did it because he really wanted to help people.”

Over the years, Dr. Mabie also had active staff appointments at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center and LA County USC Medical Center. Additionally, he had a teaching appointment as a clinical professor of pediatrics at USC and was an attending physician at LA County USC Medical Center.

Lisa Schlick, a Claremont resident and Mountain View Elementary School art teacher, said Dr. Mabie’s death leaves her with a real sense of loss. He was the pediatrician for her 2 daughters, who are now grown. As a young mother worried about her children’s health, she inevitably found Dr. Mabie to be reassuring.

“He would come in and smile and his eyes would light up,” she said. “There was something about his face that made you feel like, ‘Okay, everything’s going to be fine.”

On one occasion, one of Ms. Schlick’s daughters required stitches. After he had strapped her into the papoose used for procedures on small children and got to work, the little girl became panic-stricken and started screaming.

“He looked right at her and said, ‘That’s okay, honey. You can go ahead and scream. I know it hurts,’” Ms. Schlick remembered. “Once he was finished and she calmed down, he said, ‘Okay, Whitney. Now your mom’s going to take you and get you a treat.’ He was just a good, nice man.”

Settling in Claremont, Dr. Mabie was a devout parishioner of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church and actively served on the boards of Claremont Rotary, the local chapter of the Red Cross, the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center Foundation and the              Children’s Advocacy Center. He received both communion and the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal from Pope John Paul II during the Papal visit to Los Angeles in 1987.

With the help of his wife and members of their parish, he also donated a good portion of his weekends to providing free pediatric care to immigrant families in the Pico-Union neighborhood of Los Angeles. He was later recognized by President Clinton for his time as medical director of the Clinica de Divina Providencia, which spanned 10 years beginning in the late 1980s.

Though his service in pediatrics was extraordinary, it alone did not define him.

With a quick wit, a warm smile and a competitive spirit, Dr. Mabie excelled at basketball, tennis, racquetball and golf. He was also an avid reader, particularly of fiction, and played a great game of chess, billiards and card games like cribbage.

An avid hiker and naturalist, he led his family on camping and backpacking trips deep into the Sierra Nevada and throughout the west, returning home to develop and enlarge his own photographs.

More than 40 years ago, the Mabies purchased a cabin in upper Mt. Baldy, just below Snowcrest Lodge and across from the Zen Center, a retreat that provided the busy physician with many cherished moments of Zen.

Occasionally, Dr. Mabie and his wife would head to their cabin for a quiet getaway. Generally, though, Mt. Baldy was a family affair, with the children playing in their “second backyard” and the doctor bringing his movie or still camera, serving as the family’s historian.

Dr. Mabie’s children have fond memories of Baldy, where their father taught them to ski and they built giant snowmen and went tobogganing down a sledding run between the Zen Center and the Harwood Lodge.

When visitors to Baldy were stuck there due to icy conditions, Dr. and Mrs. Mabie had an open-door policy.

“We’d have 20 or 30 stranded people in our cabin and my mom and dad would be feeding them,” their son, Bill, recalled. “They were like that.”

The family had a ritual during each car trip. All 9 Mabie children, along with their parents, would pile into their big blue Ford van and then each of the kids would do a countdown, beginning with the youngest: 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Then, the whole family would yell “Blast off!” and Dr. Mabie would start the van and back out of the driveway.

Dr. Mabie didn’t mind a bit of noise in the name of fun. He and his wife both loved to sing, and his children can hardly remember a time they visited him and music wasn’t playing. The holiday season was a particularly festive time in the Mabie household.

“Our family used to attend the 7 a.m. mass on Christmas morning and we would fill a whole pew-and-a-half,” his son Bill related. “My father would wake us up at the crack of dawn by cranking up the stereo full-blast and playing Christmas carols.”

Dr. Mabie’s children remember him as “an amazing father” who, together with his wife, emphasized education. Each child attended Our Lady of the Assumption School and later moved on to their choice of Claremont High School or the local Catholic high schools Damien or St. Lucy’s. All 9 adult children went on to earn college degrees.

“His will was strong, his commitment deep and his example profound,” family shared. “He led a life of purpose and meaning as a pediatrician and as a father, a husband and a friend.”

Between his demanding profession and his large family, it wasn’t always easy for Dr. Mabie’s kids to get one-on-one time with their father.

“During dinner, the phone would always ring. Dad always took the calls out of duty,” his son Bill recalled. “It was always the medical exchange, a switchboard operator who would connect a patient to a doctor for a consultation. When he would graphically ask about symptoms, we all knew to not listen because it could affect our appetite.”

Nonetheless, Dr. Mabie found ways to provide each of his children with quality time, according to family. His son Bill has a particularly bright memory of a backpacking trip to the Sierra Nevada, when the family had set up camp by a river. Convinced that there was a perfect pool of water full of trout, just up river, Dr. Mabie set out, inviting anyone who wanted to go along to accompany him. Bill grabbed his pole and followed him and was stunned when, 50 yards later, he turned back and realized no one else had followed.

“For the first time in my life, I was going to do something alone with Pops,” he remembered. “It was just like the opening to the Andy Griffith show, he and I with our fishing poles walking up a trail.

“I was so excited and proud, and it was just like he said it would be,” he continued. “There was a big waterfall and there was a beautiful calm pool of water, and it really was full of fish. We caught enough to feed the family.”

Bill has always cherished the memory of his father leading him up a trail and showing him the way.

“I guess he really did that for all of us, his entire life,” he said. 

Dr. Mabie is survived by his loving wife of 60 years, Kathleen Marie Mabie; by his  children and their spouses, Thomas (Rhonda Heth), Laura (Keith Serxner), Ken (Patti),  Ann (Frank DeRuyter), Mary (Bill Platt), Peter (Gwen O’Grady), William (Denise Mendoza) and Michael (Nora); by 16 grandchildren, Margaret, Claire (Richard Walker), Joseph, Jason (Kasey), Melissa (fiancé Randy Cochran), Lauren, Julia, Thomas, Michael (Alexis), Kathleen (Cesar Sandoval), Grace, Emily, John, Roy, Sarah and Daniel; by 4 step-grandchildren, Joshua Platt (Christina), Tucker Platt (Sara), Ryan Mendoza (Valerie) and Celeste Hernandez; by 2 great-grandchildren Olivia and Thomas; and by 2 step-great-grandchildren Brody and Logan Platt. Dr. Mabie was preceded in death by his beloved daughter Jane (Lori Kizzia) and son James.

Funeral services will be held Saturday, February 2 at 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Assumption Church, located at 435 N. Berkeley Ave. in Claremont.  

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Children’s Advocacy Center, 363 S. Park Ave., Suite 202, Pomona, CA 91766, or to the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center Foundation, 1798 N. Garey Ave., Pomona, CA

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