Dr. Malcolm Heath is this year’s Featured Pilot at the San Juan Aviation Museum



Presentation Set for March 27, 2pm, at the Roy Franklin Terminal, Friday Harbor Airport


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On D-Day, June 6, 1944, more than 1,600 American gliders launched from Chartres, France to 
land at Normandy.  According to a 1978 edition of the Journal of the San Juan Islands, parachute 
infantry surgeon Dr. Malcolm Heath rode in on the only surviving glider of a group of four.   At that 
moment he likely imagined his death just a few minutes from landing, instead of decades later on 
San Juan Island.

Assuming his survival, he probably imagined a civilian life stateside, with a comfortable practice, 
out of harms way.  In reality, his landing at Normandy would be challenged in intensity by night 
flights to Bellingham, beach landings and house calls by boat, in all kinds of weather.

The Port of Friday Harbor, San Juan Pilots Association, as well as friends and patients will gather 
March 27 to recognize Dr Heath’s contribution to The San Juan Islands.

Dr. Heath’s post-war practice began in Boston.  But, by 1949 he was living on San Juan Island 
and was its only doctor. He learned to fly, bought an airplane and a boat and put cars in 
Bellingham and Orcas, as well as Friday Harbor.

And, for more than 30-years he was the medical system for the San Juan Islands, caring for all 
the families and all the visitors.  He took calls at home at night, and visited patients dressed in a 
tie and jacket.  He took the occasional fishing trip, but painted his boat pink, so that he could be 
found, if needed.

He delivered all the babies, escorted the hard cases to Bellingham, sutured the cuts, and calmed 
the families.

Teresa (Nash) DeGraaf reached out for some remembrances of Dr. Heath.

Sally Myser Wadhams’ mother, Mary, was his Medical Transcriptionist in the 1960s.  Listening to 
Dr. Heath’s recorded dictations, her fingers flew on the Medical Center’s electric typewriter.

Norma Smithrud saw Dr. Heath from the time she was in the 4th grade.  When she grew up, he 
took care of her children.  Her memories include a nighttime emergency call, complete with jacket 
and tie.  And the time, with his hand on her shoulder he said, “Your family has been through so 
much.”

Al “H” wrote that Dr. Heath was, “A friend and damn fine Doctor.  Saved my life when I had 
malaria.”

Nancy (Nash) Hanson remembers Dr. Heath saving her father John from a bleeding ulcer, 
accompanying him on a night flight to Bellingham.   John lived a decade longer, saw three of his 
children married, and became a grandfather eight times over.

John Patz worked for Dr. Heath as a Physician’s Assistant and called him a “Marcus Welby” type.  
He described calling a sick-at-home Dr. Heath for help with a patient with a bad laceration.  Heath 
was there in 45 minutes, wearing a shirt and tie, spent 20 minutes on the laceration.  Then, just 
said, “That was a bad one,” and went home.

Dr. Heath attempted delivery of Joyce Buffum’s 4 children.  Number 4 arrived during a strong 
windstorm.  Unable to fly, Dr. Heath delivered the last child via the telephone at a church, guiding 
the nurse through the process.

Lynnette Guard remembered the birth of son, Frankie.  “He stopped by my home (on his way 
home) and as he looked out the window he say, “You can’t have the baby tonight, Lynette – It’s 
foggy!”

Margaret Mortenson worked as a pharmacist in Friday Harbor.  “I worked with Dr. Heath for a 
month or more without ever seeing him in person.  I began to visualize him from his voice, a 
Southerner tinged with an English accent.  One day a tall, athletic man with the demeanor of a 
person who had just jumped out of an airplane and repacked his chute right there in a grassy field 
strode into the drug store.  Selma Stoney touched my sleeve and said, “That is Dr. Heath.”  He 
didn’t look any more like the man in my imagination that Princess Grace resembled Dr. Martin 
Luther King.” 

Dr. Paul Chiles worked for Dr. Heath in the mid 1970’s.  He remembers seeing the first patient at 
the new clinic.  It was a lady with a broken hand.  He installed the cast during the inauguration 
ceremony.

Dr. Heath started the first EMT Training Program in 1974, and after his second retirement in 
1980, he helped build the fire station at Hanna Heights.

Frank and Sandra Brame lived near him and had the pleasure of spending time at his home often 
in the 1980s.

There are big-city medical specialists who might say that a doctor who chooses to have a family 
practice out on a tiny island at the remote edge of Northwest America must be in the witness 
protection program.  The hours are long, the weather at times cruel, and the finances aren’t 
rewarding.  But, those doctors work, retire and die without Dr. Heath’s legacy.

To three decades of Islanders, he was the doctor.  There are San Juan Islanders today who 
might not have been born but for Dr. Heath’s saving a parent’s life.

Dr. Heath’s exhibit will serve as a memory for people who knew him, and an education for those 
who weren’t so fortunate.  The display will remain in place for a year, beginning March 27th.  The 
unveiling reception at 2:00 pm is free and everyone is encouraged to attend.


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About Bryan Hoyer

Inventor, Entrepreneur and Adventurer
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