August 3, 2010

Feature obituary:
Dr. William MacVane, 95, surgeon, Bronze Star recipient, mayor

By Emma Bouthillette ebouthillette@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - When someone asked Dr. William MacVane Jr. what kind of doctor he was, he always responded, "a good one."

click image to enlarge

The Associated Press Dr. William Mac Vane, center, assists Dr. Emerson Drake with the first open heart surgery at Maine General Hospital in 1959.

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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.

Despite that, his daughter Lesley MacVane said, "he never boasted about anything he did."

Maine General Hospital's first surgical resident and well-respected thoracic surgeon died Sunday. Dr. MacVane was 95.

A lifelong resident of Portland, Dr. MacVane "loved this city," his daughter said. He was born on State Street at home on June 12, 1915 and told many stories of sledding down that street as a child. His daughter said he and his best friend, Dr. Philip Thompson, strung tin cans across the street so they could talk to each other from their bedrooms.

As a teenager, Dr. MacVane had a mastoidectomy and was hospitalized for a period of time. During his recovery, one of the doctors at Maine General asked him to follow on rounds.

"Dad followed him to rounds every morning. At that point, that's what he decided he wanted to do was become a doctor," his daughter said.

Dr. MacVane attended John Hopkins University School of Medicine for his degree, later serving as an Army officer with the 61st Portable Surgical Unit. Stationed in the Philippines, he completed surgery after surgery saving many lives and was later honored with the Bronze Star.

"He was very focused and whatever he set his mind to, he would do it," his daughter said.

Dr. MacVane's dedication during the service continued throughout his career. Whenever he had patients, regardless of the hospital, he would visit every single patient every day.

When she was a child, his daughter said, the family rented and later owned a house on Little Sebago Lake because it was a practical destination considering his job.

"He'd arrive home for dinner and mother would say he had a phone call from the hospital, he'd turn around and go back," his daughter said, admitting they did not take many family vacations elsewhere because he would not leave his patients.

Last year, on his 94th birthday, he was honored by the city as the oldest surviving former mayor of Portland and for his work as a city councilor from 1968 through 1977 representing the West End.

When opponents or critics of Dr. MacVane's efforts accused him of using his title and reputation as a doctor to advance in politics, he stood up for himself, his daughter said.

"He said, 'I'm just plain Bill. Plain Bill MacVane,"' she said.

On Monday, Lesley MacVane rode her bicycle throughout the city and sat on the promenade.

"I thought, everywhere I look is a reminder of him," she said of all his efforts on various committees, including the construction of the Reiche School, the library, the Temple Street parking garage and more.

Through his 80s and early 90s, Dr. MacVane continued learning through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Southern Maine.

"He took anything that had to do with history, even if it was a repeat," his daughter said. "I started going with him."

"He was very active," she said. "He couldn't sit still. He had to be doing something."

Having played an integral role in the construction of the current Portland Public Library, Dr. MacVane was adamant that he attend the recent dedication of the renovated library.

"He wanted to go and continue to be part of this city," his daughter said.

 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: ebouthillette@pressherald.com

 

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