Move over, Dr. Spock. Not everything can be learned from a book. Sometimes good old-fashioned common sense works just fine.
So said Dr. Lee Worley.
Dr. Judy Schaechter, interim chair in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, was a new mom when she joined Worley’s team and his experienced voice was a calming presence.
“He was able to tell me that it didn’t matter what the trends were in terms of parenting or whatever parents were reading that year — Dr. Spock or Dr. Sears or the Tiger Mom. Kids grew up well. The basic lessons were the same. And that was very reassuring,” Schaechter said.
Worley, a pediatric hospitalist, died at 87 on April 10 in Vero Beach, where he retired three years ago. He was born in Miami on Sept. 30, 1927. His father was also born in Miami, in the 1890s.
“He was very proud of the fact that they lived in Miami when it was referred to as Lemon City,” said Worley’s daughter, Ellen Sellers.
Sometimes the old ways worked the best.
“He was a no-nonsense kind of person, a clinician who did not bother ordering 20 tests to make the correct diagnosis,” said Dr. Audrey Ofir, associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Pediatric Comprehensive Care Clinic at UM. “His wealth of knowledge was immeasurable.”
When Worley started teaching UM medical students and residents in 1957, a year after he opened his own medical practice, the children’s wards at Jackson Memorial were segregated, lacked air conditioning, and computers and smart phones were still a decade away from Star Trek’s imagination.
As his teaching days at UM grew from one day to a few a week, Worley, a 1954 graduate of Vanderbilt University’s medical school, closed his private practice and worked full time as medical director at the precursor to the Mailman Center for Child Development.
He challenged his students, his daughter recalls.
“My father said it would drive him crazy when a student would answer, ‘Well, the textbook says…’
“‘I don’t want to hear what the textbook says, I want you to use your logic and what you’ve been taught to answer this question,’ he would say. He gave practical advice and practical skills.”
He would do the same for his patients and his own family.
Sellers was a new mother to his grandson, Kyle, and when Kyle was about 18 months old he started to bite, like many toddlers do. Sellers rang her dad.
“Oh, my God, he’s a biter,” she cried on the phone.
Worley was to the point: “What in the world are you so upset about? Next time he bites you, bite him back. He’ll never bite again.”
So she did. Not hard, of course. A nip on the shoulder. Kyle never bit again.
Another time, a patient brought their son over to see Worley after he had seen numerous doctors and psychiatrists. He was acting out. Again and again.
Sellers: “Dad was a specialist in child behavior and after some evaluations my father told the parents, ‘Give him a little whack on the butt.’ The parents were aghast. ‘We spent all this money and he tells us to give the kid a whack on the butt?’
“A few months later, they sent my father a plant basket and in it was a cardboard card shaped like a paddle. The parents wrote, ‘You were right!’”
Schaechter, who is also chief of services for Holtz Children’s Hospital at Jackson Memorial, will miss that Worley experience.
“Dr. Worley touched every one of us with his wisdom, his wit, his stamina and his professionalism. He helped build our department. He helped shape pediatrics in South Florida and define developmental behavioral pediatrics, almost before it was named as a field. There are few teachers, few physicians like Lee Worley. His legacy will forever live on in the generations he cared for and all those he trained.”
Worley, an avid sportsman who loved hunting, fishing and gardening, remained at UM until his retirement in 2012. “I don’t want to stay past my time. You can’t use a hearing aid when you use a stethoscope,” he told the school.
But he really didn’t slow down. “Even up to the day he died, he jogged on the beach on Vero,” his daughter said. He preferred to run on the soft sand. She likes the hard-packed sand where it is less arduous.
“He’d roll his eyes and run with me for a little bit” but then he’d break away, shouting over his shoulder, “‘I’ll see you on the backside.’ I’m 58, in good shape, and he’s outrunning me twice as fast. Whatever he did, he did perfectly.”
In addition to daughter Sellers and grandson Kyle, Worley is survived by his wife Christine; children Adrienne, Jonathan and Michael; grandchildren Wade, Annika and Keira; and brother Robert.
Worley did not want services. The family set up a fund at UM to create a lecture series for pediatric residents. Donations can be sent to University of Miami Department of Pediatrics, P.O. Box 016820 (D-820), Miami, FL, 33101.
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