Dedicated doctor who helped introduce cardiac surgery to South Florida dies at 89

10/08/2013 6:00 PM

10/09/2013 3:11 AM

Harold Spear, a pioneer of cardiac surgery in Miami and one of the early developers of the pacemaker, has died in his Miami Beach home.

He was a month shy of his 90th birthday when he passed away on Aug. 29.

Born in 1923, Spear grew up in New Jersey and spent much of his early life in the Northeast, where he established himself as a renaissance man early in life.

“I was very, very proud of him,” his wife of 66 years, Suzanne Spear, said. “I couldn’t believe how dedicated he was.”

While studying pre-med at Yale, Spear stood out in the swim team and was slated to go to the 1940 Olympics, which were called off because of World War II. The keen academic went on to graduate from Harvard Medical School in 1947 and married Suzanne that same year.

As dedicated as Spear was to his work, he was even more dedicated to his family.

While working in Houston during one of the country’s most severe polio epidemics in 1951, his 6-month-old son contracted the disease. He and his family moved to Miami.

“He had opportunities to go anywhere in the country, but he came here for the climate,” Suzanne said. "Now and then he would say, ‘I miss the academic life,’ but the choice was simple.”

Miami was a frontier town in terms of cardiac surgery at the time. Spear spent his time working between midnight and 4 a.m., driving to emergency rooms across South Florida on dark back roads.

Dedicated to his patients, Spear never removed his name from the phone book.

He also did experimental work during the early days of lung machines, heart transplants and pacemakers.

“It was the size of a Kleenex box,” his wife joked of an early version of a pacemaker.

The same qualities that made Spear a caring doctor made him a loving father.

“He was very encouraging,” said his daughter Alison. “He told us, ‘You’ve got to have a profession — I don’t care what it is — but you have to go to graduate school.”

Both of his daughters chose to pursue architecture.

When the oldest, Laurinda, was starting out he commissioned one of her early projects, the Pink House.

Confidence in his daughter’s talent paid off. The Pink House has since become of Miami’s most photographed buildings and is still highly respected in the architecture community. Laurinda Spear co-founded Arquitectonica, the celebrated Miami-based design firm, with her husband, Bernardo Fort-Brescia.

“Every single person [in architecture school] wanted to stay at the Pink House,” Alison said of her years at graduate school.

Spear will be remembered as a quiet man who led by example. One of the early believers of exercise and diet as a means to good health, Spear exercised daily. “He would treat everyone with dignitary and respect,” his wife said. “I would go with him to the hospitals because I was worried about him. He would stop and talk to people cleaning the floors and washing the windows and treat them like surgeons.”

Dr. Spear is survived by his wife, Suzanne; children Laurinda Hope, Alison Leelyn and Harold Charles; 12 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

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