Dr. John N. Withers, a part-time Durango resident and former columnist for The Durango Herald, died Sunday, March 3, in Kihei, Hawaii, while snorkeling. He was 79.
Dr. Withers was born in Gary, Ind., on Feb. 6, 1934, to Jack and Lucile Withers. The family later homesteaded between Mancos and Dolores, part of which became Summit Lake. His father, Jack Withers had long-standing connections with the area, having graduated from Mancos High School in 1918.
The family farmed pinto beans for the Army during World War I, and lived in a railroad boxcar during the summers. The family eventually lost the contract and the land, and moved to the Denver area.
Dr. Withers attended the University of Colorado School of Medicine from 1955 to his graduation in 1959. He married his first wife, Lois Johnson Sax, while in medical school, but the couple later divorced when he went to Vietnam. Dr. Withers did his general surgical residency at Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii, from 1960 to 1964. He also was chief of general surgery at MacDonald Army Hospital, Ft. Eustis, Va.; commanding officer of the 17th Field Hospital in Saigon, Vietnam, from 1966 to 1967.
He was chief of general surgery at Ft. Carson Army Hospital in Colorado Springs; was in general surgical practice on Maui, Hawaii, from 1968-1995, and chief of surgery and chief of staff at Maui Memorial Hospital. He practiced general surgery in Durango from 1995-2011.
He also served with the Indian Health Service and worked with Native American tribes in Arizona, Oklahoma and Montana.
Dr. Withers became a board-certified surgeon with the American Board of Surgery 1965 and held memberships in the American College of Surgeons, American Hernia Society, American Medical Association, La Plata Medical Society, and the Colorado Medical Society.
On June 17, 1972, he married, Carole Royds, in Kaupakalua, Maui. Carole Withers now runs Durango Wildlife Rehab Center. The couple moved to Durango in 1995.
He earned honors in college as Phi Beta Kappa, as well as the U.S. Army’s Legion of Merit for services in Vietnam 1967 and Hawaii’s Outstanding Physician of the Year in 1983.
Dr. Withers served as chairman of La Plata County chapter of the American Cancer Society and president of La Plata Medical Society. He was an avid fly fisherman and had a group of Durango-area friends called the “Geezers” who met weekly.
Dr. Withers wrote a medical column the Herald from the mid-1990s to 2005, and had written a column for The Maui News as well. He retired from medicine in 2011.
Carole Withers said her husband swam every day, and the waters in front of the house are rife with whales and turtles this time of year. Last week, while sea kayaking he bumped into a humpback whale and calf.
Dr. Withers is survived by his wife Carole of Maui and Durango, sons Nathan of Albuquerque and Noel of Maui; daughters Jenny Greenwood of Spokane, Wash., Debra Johnson of Seattle and “hanai” daughter Sara Moore of Kona, Hawaii; and three grandchildren.
Dr. Withers will be cremated, and a private memorial service was held Sunday in Hawaii. A remembrance will be conducted in Durango in the spring.