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After more than 60 years, Sewickley doctor plans to retire

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 8:55 p.m.
Sewickley Herald
Dr. Charles Clarke, 91, poses inside an examination room at his office in Glen Osborne Friday, Dec. 6, 2012. Clarke is set to retire Friday, Dec. 14. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald

There were times many years ago when Dr. Charles Clarke was paid with a small pig and bottles of homemade wine.

“We used to dress the pig in a woolen hat and mittens,” said one of his five daughters, Anne Clarke Ronce of San Francisco, with a laugh.

She said her father, 91, who is retiring Friday from his practice in Glen Osborne, often did not bill patients who were struggling financially.

“It's all about life, death and human nature. You have to take care of people. That's a deep obligation. I never expected to get rich, and I never did,” said Clarke, who has practiced medicine since 1948 and has had an office in the Critmore building since 1973.

Ronce said since word of her father's upcoming retirement was announced, 30 to 40 patients call a day to find out if it really is happening. Some patients have been with him for 30, 40 or 50 years. The oldest has been seeing Clarke since 1953.

“Some say they are only alive because of him,” Ronce said.

Clarke said he still is healthy, but now that he's 91, it's time to retire.

“Times have changed. People use computers rather than print. I don't like that, although technology has its place,” he said.

His desk is piled full of thick patient folders, all stuffed with thousands of pages of handwritten notes, his daughter said.

Clarke said some physicians say they practically don't even have to look at a patient when they have all the advanced test results in front of them, he doesn't think so.

“You have to listen to the patient and examine them. Then, there are the tests,” he said.

He said he believes in the traditional duty of the physician to do what's right for the patient.

“Do what is right in your mind for the patient, regardless of other considerations, including your family and your own convenience,” he said.

That's why Clarke has been the Pagluca family physician for 40 years, said Dan Pagulca, 60, of Findlay.

“He always took time with you and answered your questions. If he didn't have the answer right then, he would always follow up with you. I felt comfortable and secure knowing he was always there.

“His concern for his patients is like doctors used to be. You knew you would be taken care of,” Pagulca said.

Although Clarke sent letters to all his patients announcing his retirement and a list of recommended doctors, Pagulca said it will be hard to replace him.

“He's been a gentleman all along,” he said.

Clarke, who has lived in Sewickley since 1962, said most of “his people” came from Mt. Washington, where he lived for a few years. He also lived in Dormont and Mt. Lebanon.

He attended college at Princeton University, where he majored in chemistry and graduated in 1944, when, he said, most boys were going to war.

While he was attending the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he also was in the Army, and he lived in the barracks located in the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood.

His future wife, Cecelia, also was attending University of Pittsburgh, where she majored in English.

They were married for 57 years when she died in 2006. During that time, Clarke was sent to the Philippines, Europe and Okinawa as an army lieutenant and medical officer. He also was assigned as the ear nose and throat doctor in the South Pacific at age 26.

After graduation, he still served in the Army as a physician and really like it, he said. During his travels, he and Cecelia wrote letters back and forth, and he ended up proposing to her by “radio telephone,” in the Philippines with help from his friend, Dr. Carmello Ranii of Fox Chapel, now retired.

The cost for a such a phone call in 1948 was about $300.

“I ran out of money, and Carmello ran out of money. So, my future father-in-law paid the last $70 for the call when I proposed to my wife,” he said.

In addition to Ronce, they had four other daughters, the late Caitlyn Clarke, Connie Clarke of New York City, Cecelia Clarke, Sewickley; and Victoria Clarke of Maryland; and three grandchildren, Colin, 17, Devan, 15, and Charles, 13.

Clark's first office was located in the former Jenkins Arcade — situated Downtown along Stanwix Street between Penn Avenue and Liberty Avenue — in 1948, when he said some people thought he looked like Groucho Marx.

He also has worked at Heritage Valley Sewickley hospital, Presbyterian University Hospital, UPMC Mercy, West Penn Hospital, UPMC Passavant, UPMC Shadyside, Falk Clinic and the Mayo Clinic.

Although Ronce said she and her sisters are trying to persuade their father to write his memoirs, he said he doesn't have a lot planned after retiring aside from reading those novels that “have stood the test of time,” dealing with history and biographies.

“You can see through the novels that human nature doesn't change.”

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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