TEMPLE TERRACE — Ophthalmologist Ray Sever moved to Hillsborough County in the late 1960s, a time when civil rights, gay rights and the women's movement were all developing.
But in Hillsborough County, only two women held elected office. That went against his grain, so in 1972 he campaigned for Betty Castor for the Hillsborough County Commission.
She won, becoming the first female commissioner.
He did the same for Fran Davin, who ran successfully for County Commission in 1974; for Helen Gordon Davis, who in 1974 became the first woman from Hillsborough County elected to the state House, and former commissioner and current clerk of courts Pat Frank.
"He really believed in women, and in women having the brains to be just as good as men or better in politics," said Davis, 83.
Dr. Sever died at home on Nov. 30, of pancreatic cancer. He was 78.
"Ray was big on all kinds of social justice," said Davin, 77, who later served as Mayor Pam Iorio's senior adviser during her first term. "He was at parades, at picnics, at fund raisers, walking precincts. He did that his whole life."
His belief in equality extended to his medical practice. Dr. Sever adjusted his rates for patients who could not afford to pay full price. He kept his home phone number listed and took calls there from patients.
"He would listen to what they had to say," said Dr. Henry Ramseur, Dr. Sever's business partner for 30 years at what is now the Florida Eye Center. "Were they feeling any side effects? How was the treatment going?"
Away from work, the man friends describe as quiet and humble amused himself with practical jokes. He once swept leaves from the street onto the driveway of a next-door neighbor who kept up his lawn and property to perfection.
"He spent quite a while on that," said Jan Duwelius, 57, who married Dr. Sever in 1990.
He was born in Hialeah into a large family. As a teen, he camped on the beach with friends, built bonfires and watched the waves break. He earned a bachelor's degree from Eastern Nazarene College, a master's degree from Harvard University, and an M.D. in 1960 from the University of Miami.
The Navy sent him to its Naval Air Development Center in Bucks County, Pa. He checked the eyes of astronauts in NASA's Mercury program, including John Glenn's, after they had spent time in a space-flight simulator.
During his medical training at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, Dr. Sever worked with doctors who were treating macular degeneration by injecting drugs into the eye.
"They got fantastic results," said Ramseur, 72. "(Patients) were able to retain useful vision that were ultimately destined to lose the vision completely due to hemorrhage."
More recently, he weighed in on a medical controversy over two drugs, one exponentially more expensive than the other, Ramseur said. Dr. Sever argued that Avastin, which costs about $50 per injection, has shown good results for treating macular degeneration, and that patients should not be forced to take Lucentis, which gained FDA approval in 2006 but costs up to $2,000 per injection.
"He said, 'Avastin is a much cheaper deal, why cost the government extra money?'" Ramseur said.
Doctors diagnosed Dr. Sever with cancer in July 2009. He monitored his own vital signs and experimented with dosages. Eventually he stopped taking chemotherapy and called in hospice workers.
Since his death, Duwelius, his second wife, has thought about a lecture they attended together. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author of On Death and Dying, asked a packed house who among them could say they were living their lives exactly as they might have wished.
Only three hands went up. One was Dr. Sever's.
"Later in my marriage, I realized that that was part of my attraction to him," she said. "He just loved life."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.