Dr. William E. Hale, known for public service in Pinellas County, dies at 84

Where there was need, Dr. William E. Hale tried to help.

The longtime community activist, who founded the fundraising arm of the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Citizens, started a groundbreaking program to screen older patients for medical disorders and earned the honor of having a senior center named for him, died Saturday at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater from lung and heart issues, a relative said. Dr. Hale was 84.

"He was the most gentle, sweetest man, who saw only the good in people," said his daughter, Sara Simmons of Belleair.

Dr. Hale was born in Princeton, W.Va., on Aug. 26, 1926. He served as an Army medic in World War II before earning a bachelor of arts degree from West Virginia University, a bachelor of science in pharmacy from the University of Florida and his doctor of medicine degree from the Medical College of Virginia.

Dr. Hale, an internal medicine specialist, served his residency at Philadelphia General Hospital. He and his wife, Jeanette, came to Dunedin with Sara in 1962, when he was hired as an internist at Mease Hospital and Clinic, now Mease Dunedin Hospital. In 1970, he was elected to lead the medical staff.

He retired from active practice in 1974 after two heart attacks. The following year, he founded the Dunedin Hypertension Screening Program, a research program on the leading edge of preventive medicine and geriatric care.

The project, to screen elderly patients for medical disorders and record findings for future study, became known as the Florida Geriatric Research Program and drew interest from doctors around the world.

In addition to creating that program, Dr. Hale is best known for his decades-long service to UPARC. He was a past president of the organization and created the UPARC Foundation to secure funding for the agency. He was instrumental in securing space for the organization at the newly constructed Long Center in 1990.

The Hales were one of five couples who started an annual omelet breakfast more than four decades ago to raise money for the foundation.

Jerry and Melody Figurski, whose daughter Tracy has been a consumer of UPARC services for 16 years, described Dr. Hale as a compassionate man with calming influence, who was the first person to call or send a letter to share in joys or sorrows.

"The first person who sent me flowers when I got breast cancer was Dr. Hale (and Jeanette). … They were white daisies in a white basket. I'll never forget them," said Melody, who is now cancer-free and serves on the UPARC board.

Jerry Figurski, vice president of the UPARC Foundation board, described Dr. Hale's philosophy on children facing mental challenges.

"The answer is when every child, no matter their station in life, will have the same opportunity," Dr. Hale once told him.

Dr. Hale's accomplishments stretch across at least five decades. He was a past president of the American Heart Association's Upper Pinellas Branch and founded the Florida West Coast Chapter of the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation. He was past president of the Dunedin North Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Dunedin, and served on multiple boards for organizations such as the YMCA, Neighborly Senior Services, Partners N Progress for the Arts, the Salvation Army, the United Way and the Pinellas County Medical Society.

His "My View" columns appeared during the 1980s in the St. Petersburg Times and Evening Independent. His byline, punctuated in the early years with an "M.D." behind his name, touched on issues — prescription drug abuse, preventive health measures, cancer risks of marijuana use and obesity — that wouldn't be out of place in any newspaper article decades later.

His tone was relatable, and often with a subtle humor —like a Dec. 23, 1986, column diagnosing Santa Claus as at risk for heart disease and cancer due to years of pipe smoking and compulsive binges on milk and cookies.

"With all these fears for someone who is so dear and near to each of our families, I would like to ask for your help," he wrote.

The monikers bestowed upon him by grateful organizations and municipalities were as varied as his service endeavors.

In 1976, he was named "Mr. Delightful Dunedin." The Dunedin Historical Society dubbed him one of the city's "History Makers" in 1977. He was named Outstanding Citizen of the Year by the Dunedin Jaycees in 1980. Also that year he was awarded the Bilgore Award for significant humanitarian service presented by the Kiwanis Club of Clearwater.

Despite living in Dunedin, in 1992 he became "Mr. Clearwater" for service that extended beyond the city's borders.

Three times, he was the recipient of the Sertoma Club's "Service to Mankind Award."

In 2002, the Dunedin City Commission voted to rename the city's senior citizen center, which was undergoing an expansion and renovation, as the Dr. William E. Hale Senior Activity Center.

In an incident that epitomized Dr. Hale's service to the community, he was attending UPARC's first prayer breakfast in March 1983 when he rushed to help resuscitate a woman with heart problems who had collapsed.

Asked once many years ago how he managed to do so much in the community, Dr. Hale credited not himself but "the kindness and support of a lot of good people."

Simmons had another view of her father's philanthropy.

"He did everything out of the goodness of his heart because he cared about other people," she said.

Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Jeanette of Dunedin; a daughter and son-in-law, Sara and John Simmons of Belleair; a granddaughter and a grandson; three sisters-in-law; a niece and a nephew.

In a final tribute, the doctor will be honored at the senior center that bears his name.

Dr. William E. Hale

Visitation will be from

2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Dr. William E. Hale Senior Activity Center, 330 Douglas Ave., Dunedin. Funeral services and a reception will begin at the center at 11 a.m. Thursday. Arrangements by Moss Feaster of Dunedin.

Dr. William E. Hale, known for public service in Pinellas County, dies at 84 01/16/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 17, 2011 7:32am]

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