Nancy Fisher | 24th Street and
Deacon Al Graff | La Jolla
|Dr. Wheelock and his wife, Mary. Sandpiper archives.
Click on image to enlarge.
Several Sandpiper readers have informed us that the Del Mar Medical Clinic, established by Dr. G. Richard Wheelock in 1955, will be moving to a new location in Solana Beach in November. The clinic, now known as Scripps Coastal Medical Center, is a part of Del Mar history that many long-time residents remember as once being “the only game in town.”
To pay tribute to Dr Wheelock and this Del Mar institution, the Sandpiper spoke with Deacon Al Graff, a close personal friend of “Dr. Dick,” a collaborator in his charitable efforts, and a fellow Rotarian.
|Deacon Al Graff. Photo Nancy Fisher
Click on image to enlarge.
NF: You and Dr. Wheelock have been friends for more than sixty years. How did you meet?
AG: My family moved to Rancho Santa Fe in 1948 and, when our family physician passed away, Dr. Wheelock accepted my family into his practice. And what a wonderful, competent, physician he was. He personally knew each of his patients and referred you, if needed, to a competent specialist. Dr. Dick made house calls if a patient was unable to come to his office, and would often see patients in the middle of the night if they required immediate attention.
NF: Along with his medical practice, Dr. Wheelock is well known for his charitable work. Can you tell us more about that?
AG: I was a member of a non-profit called Esperanza International that built small homes and was developing a significant health care center in Tijuana when I mentioned a special case to Dr. Dick. A young man, who was wheelchair bound, had learned to repair radios and was supporting his parents and brothers, but his small home needed an additional room for the repair business. Dr. Dick invited me to share this need with the Del Mar Rotary. The Rotary agreed to build the room, brought in experienced construction people and, in one long day, completed the addition. I joined the Rotary!
NF: And that was just the start for you two, right?
AG: Yes. In the summer of 1991, Dr. Dick retired from his profession, and after returning from a trip to Tijuana to see the progress of the health center, made the most simple and profound request. “Al, can you get me a little space at the St. Leo Mission Church where I can see some patients?” Msgr. Larry Purcell, Pastor of St. James and St. Leo churches in Solana Beach knew of the dire need of the working poor without health insurance and agreed to let us use a lean-to on the north side of the church. We made that into two examining rooms, the nurses were outside, and the intake was in a small adjacent kitchen. And so it began.
NF: And we know it took off from there. How did that unfold?
AG: When it was clear that this small operation was successful the Rotary agreed to design, construct, and significantly finance additional facilities. Skilled people from Eden Gardens, St. James, and Rotary built an intake room, a mini-pharmacy, and five examining rooms. Since then two more examining rooms and a dental facility have been added. And Dr. Dick has attracted the highest caliber of volunteers from our North County cities. These include doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and administrators, as well as specialists such as surgeons and anesthesiologists who will accept referrals free of charge.
NF: It’s easy to see your respect and affection for Dr. Wheelock. Do you still spend a lot of time together?
AG: Four of us play bridge together every Thursday afternoon. In fact, I’ll see him at 2:00 today. Dr. Dick is most happy when he wins and collects a dollar from the losers.
NF: Anything else you’d like to add?
AG: Yes. A direct message to him: Dr. G. Richard Wheelock, you have many friends from patients of yesteryear, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, the Del Mar Rotary, and St. James and St. Leo Medical and Dental Health Programs. And our prayers are with you.