FLORAL CITY — The walls of James Stem's office were covered in paintings of circus tents and sideshows.
He always wore bow ties — they were harder for kids to yank. He had one in every color.
He spoke in a soft, slow drawl laced with a hint of his childhood in Chattanooga, Tenn. He was gentle, never scary. After exams, his young patients reached into a bowl of treats and took as many as they liked.
James Stem knew early he would be a doctor. His father was a physician who made house calls via horse and buggy. In 1948, Dr. Stem came to Clearwater to start his practice on South Fort Harrison Avenue. Office visits were $3, house calls were $5. He found instant success.
"We called him Dr. Jim," said Howard Rives, a Clearwater lawyer and a former patient.
Dr. Stem worked long hours. At night, his wife, Aline, would get the kids dressed in pajamas. Then Dr. Stem would pick them up and take them on house calls.
"He always had a police spotlight on the side of his car door, so he could read the house numbers," said his son, Barry Stem.
Dr. Stem served as chief of staff for Morton Plant Hospital and president of the Florida Pediatric Society. He closed his pediatrics practice in 1979 when his children were grown.
He always wanted to travel and do missionary-style work. When he saw an ad in a journal for work in the United Arab Emirates, he jumped at the chance.
There, he became pediatrics director for a hospital. He instituted the country's first neonatal intensive care unit, his family said. And, they said, he saved the son of a wealthy sheikh. The man presented Dr. Stem with a gold watch as a reward.
"It was exciting," said his son, Jim Stem, a former St. Petersburg Times photographer. "He loved to travel and take chances and do exciting things, but to stay away from the mainstream."
Back in Florida, he took a job as medical director for the Hernando County Health Department.
"He worked until he was 78," said Barry Stem. "He told me about six months ago that if there's anything he could do today, he wished he could work again."
Dr. Stem died Thursday after battling an auto-immune disease. He was 86.