May 21, 2013

Feature obituary: Dr. Omar 'Chip' Crothers, 71, changed lives of thousands

By Melanie Creamer
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Hundreds of mourners will gather Tuesday for a memorial service to honor Dr. Omar "Chip" Crothers, a prominent Portland surgeon who co-founded what is now OA Centers for Orthopaedics and was the driving force behind the formation of Maine Handicapped Skiing.

Dr. Omar Crothers

Family photo


Each day the newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person's family and friends in lasting ways.

Dr. Crothers died Friday of complications from heart surgery. He was 71.

In 1982, Dr. Crothers became a co-founder of Orthopedic Associates in Portland. He was widely considered one of the leading surgeons in hip replacement throughout New England. He performed more than 3,000 surgeries in his career and helped change the lives of thousands of people.

Dr. Doug Brown, another founder of Orthopedic Associates, said Dr. Crothers was instrumental in creating the core values and structure of the practice.

He worked tirelessly to recruit leading surgeons to Portland, he said.

"Without Chip, there would be no Orthopedic Associates," Dr. Brown said. "In his individual practice of orthopedic surgery, he was a person of very high academic standards and provided a high quality of orthopedic care as a surgeon and later as a non-surgeon and orthopedist."

Dr. Crothers stopped performing surgeries in his 50s due to health reasons. He worked a stint in administrative medicine at Maine Medical Center, and later returned to OA Centers for Orthopaedics as a non-operating medical orthopedist.

Its offices in Portland and satellite locations in Windham and Saco will be closed around noon Tuesday. A memorial service for Dr. Crothers will be held at 3 p.m. at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, 425 Congress St. in Portland.

He was remembered by his family and friends this week as an accomplished surgeon and dedicated father, who touched thousands of people's lives.

In 1982, Dr. Crothers and Les Otten, founder of American Skiing Company, co-founded Maine Handicapped Skiing, now called Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation.

The year-round program serves children and adults with physical disabilities.

Dr. Crothers was inspired to start the program after seeing a young patient with cerebral palsy skiing effortlessly down a mountain. He approached Otten, then owner of Sunday River, to back the program at his ski resort.

In 1990, Sunday River provided land to Maine Handicapped Skiing to build a slopeside ski center. Dr. Crothers led a successful capital campaign to fund the project, donating generously to the cause. He remained active with the organization for 30 years. In 2011, he was inducted into the Maine Ski Hall Of Fame.

Otten said a portion of Dr. Crothers' ashes will be scattered "on the land underneath the feet of the children that are learning to ski."

"I could cry in two seconds," Otten said. "We spent over half of our life creating a friendship (of 35 years) that was lost in an instant. I feel extraordinarily lucky to have had a friendship like that. It was an extraordinary opportunity to know this guy and how he impacted not only my life, but the lives of children and adults and veterans that have benefited from handicapped skiing."

Another hallmark of Dr. Crothers' life was his relationship with his five children and grandchildren. About 20 years ago, he began to develop heart issues, which forced him to slow down at work and allowed him more time with his children.

"He has been what a father is supposed to be someone I always turned to for guidance," said his daughter, Lauren Crothers Simard of Bethel. "He had real professional success, then was able to have real family success with his kids. It meant everything to him. I know at the end, he felt complete. He had accomplishments he was proud of."

(Continued on page 2)

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