ST. PETERSBURG — People knew James Lee West Jr.
The clerics celebrating his funeral were no exception. Two of the five people standing at the altar shared something in common.
He had been their doctor.
"A lot of hips and a lot of knees," said his son, Paul West.
Dr. West was an orthopedic surgeon for 50 years in St. Petersburg. He performed some of the first total hip replacements in the area.
He died Monday after a long battle with congestive heart failure. He was 82.
Dr. West graduated from medical school in his early 20s. He moved to St. Petersburg with his wife, Eleanor, in 1954 after finishing his residency in New Orleans.
He never left. He helped start an Episcopalian church. He bought a boat. He lived in the same Pinellas Point house for more than 50 years, where he raised his four children.
They remember the excitement of having a surgeon for a father, before the days of emergency room doctors.
The phone would ring in the middle of the night. Dr. West would jump out of bed, take a shower and head to the hospital — no questions asked.
He was stern and had high expectations, his family said.
"He was a very imposing figure that we all had a lot of respect for," said his son, 52. "If you crossed the line, you knew you were going to be in trouble."
It was his nature — serious, intelligent, quiet. At parties, he didn't flit around and chat with everyone. He would stay in the corner focused nose to nose on one person, discussing an interesting topic at length.
He could really discuss.
Dr. West liked to spend hours in a library — reading, analyzing, soaking up information. He loved maritime museums. A few times, he toured the Smithsonian Institution. It was an all-day affair — guided tours, group dinners, post-dinner lectures.
He'd get up and do it again the next day.
He had a passion for studying maps. When the family went sailing on weekends, he was always at the helm of the boat, looking through binoculars, studying charts, figuring out directions.
When his son returned from a vacation to China, Dr. West pulled out a huge atlas and sat at the kitchen table for hours, making him describe each city he had traveled through.
He didn't like the Internet.
"I could never could get him to do that," said Paul West. "I wanted him to, and there's so much on the Internet that would have fascinated him. But he was of the old school that he had to have a book in his hand, a map to look at."
He eventually stopped practicing surgery, but saw patients until his retirement in 2005, when he was 79. He never wanted to stop working.
In recent years, he went to medical conferences to learn about advancements in orthopedics.
More than anything, though, he wanted to see his kids succeed. Today, one is an accountant and business executive. Two are lawyers.
And James Lee West III is an orthopedic surgeon.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.