A Lifetime Caring for People
By John T. Ryan
Peru – Dr. Merritt Spear’s longtime friend Nancy Fegan expressed the sentiments of many people when she said, “He’s there when you need him.” His friends, family and associates agree that those words can be applied to his practice of medicine, pubic service, military service, politics and most importantly family.
This year Dr. Merritt Spear will celebrate his 52nd anniversary of practicing medicine in the North Country. His experiences have been vast – private practice, Peru Central School physician, Clinton County Coroner, Director of SUNY Plattsburgh Health Services and Director of SUNY Plattsburgh Sports Medicine. Anyone attending hockey games at the Ronald B. Stafford Ice Arena will see him at the end of the rink. His resume reads: SUNY Plattsburgh Director of Sports Medicine 1976-present.
Peru residents probably know Dr. Spear best as the team physician for Peru’s great wrestling and football teams. Others know him as Director of Sports Medicine for the Empire State Games and Chairman of Medical Services for the Bobsled and Luge World Cup and World Championships or as a medical team member at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic Games.
Nevertheless, with all these accomplishments on his resume , when asked what he’s most proud of Dr. Spear quickly responded, “My family!” This year Dr. Spear and his wife Joan will celebrate their 58th wedding anniversary. While sports medicine has taken him away from home for many hours, Dr. Spear believes it has enhanced his family life. He explained, “My kids (Geoffrey, Stephanie, Alison and Jennifer) are athletic. I’ve been able to see what they were doing. It fit into a pattern. I’ve followed the kids and I’ve gotten to know the people who taught them. I loved every minute of it.”
A Plattsburgh native, Dr. Spear is a Plattsburgh High School and University of Vermont graduate. He and Joan were married in 1959 during his last year at Albany Medical College. The Spears moved to Peru in 1965 when he was hired as Peru’s school physician. They purchased their historic home at 2985 Main Street where Dr. Spear opened a private practice. In 1973 he joined Dr. Travers Robbins and Dr. Victor Ludewig to open the Beaumont Medical Center on the Bear Swamp Road.
While Dr. Spear is reticent when speaking of his accomplishments, he has wonderful memories of his military service. Not long after arriving in Peru he joined the U.S. Army Medical Corps, first as a member of the Vermont Reserves and then as a member the Vermont National Guard. His weekend duty and summertime encampments continued for 29 years. He retired in 1994 at the rank of Colonel. He remarked, “I’m very proud of my association with the Reserves and National Guard. I met some good people.”
Politics has also been one of his special pursuits, an interest undoubtedly sparked by his father Merritt Spear who served two terms as Plattsburgh mayor and one term as a city counselor. Dr. Spear was elected Clinton County Coroner in 1976 and was reelected two times.
A dedicated Republican, he has served on the Peru and Clinton County Republican Committees and has a special regard for former NYS Assembly member Janet Duprey. He said, “I worked hard for Janet Duprey. She was very good in that position.” Janey Duprey in turn considers Dr. Spear to be a very special man. She said, “Dr. Spear has been there for me for forty-one years. He’s definitely the person most responsible for me running for the state assembly. He told me to run and he said I could win. I thought about it. Then I told him, ‘I’ve got a deal. I will run for the assembly if you will be my campaign manager.’” Dr. Spear accepted that deal and was ready to continue if Janet had run for reelection in 2016.
Members of the SUNY Plattsburgh Sports Medicine Department hold Dr. Spear in the highest regard. Physicians Assistant Anna D’Angelo, Assistant to the Director of Sports Medicine, has worked with Dr. Spear since 1978 at SUNY Plattsburgh, at the Empire State Games and at Peru Central. She said, “Dr. Spear is very sensitive, a very dedicated physician who truly cares about the people he takes care of. He taught me the art of medicine.” Her description reinforces Dr. Spear’s self-characterization when he said, “I like working with people. I’m not a gadget guy.”
Jason Pachter, SUNY Plattsburgh’s Head Athletic Trainer said, “Dr. Spear is an icon in this department. He helps cover all seventeen of our sports and he’s a member of the SUNY Plattsburgh Athletic Hall of Fame. He gets along with the athletes and he knows sports medicine.” Pachter said Dr. Spear knows when the athletes can safely return to action after an injury, something that’s very important to the athletes and the teams.
Today Dr. Spear considers himself semi-retired, but he still says, “I have no desire to quit what I’m doing.” Undoubtedly Dr. Spear will be here as long as he is able and as long as we need him. He will continue practicing his art – the art of medicine.
Dr. Merritt Spear’s still-active resume:
Private Practice 1965-1976
Peru Central School Physician 1965-1990
Director, College Health Service – SUNY Plattsburgh 1976-1991
Director of Sports Medicine, SUNY Plattsburgh 1976-present
College Physician (half-time) 1991-1999
Consultant in Adolescent and Sports Medicine, CVPH Medical Center 1976-1991
Clinical Instructor in Medicine at Albany Medical College 1965-1999
Colonel. Medical Corps, U.S. Army Reserves and Vermont National Guard, Retired.
Member, Advisory Committee, NY State Governor’s Council on Lifetime Health, Fitness and Sport 1993-1994
Director of Sports Medicine Empire State Games 1980 – present
Team Physician, Peru Central School 1965-1990
Member Medical Services, 1980 Olympic Games, Lake Placid
Chairman, Medical services for World Cup and World Championships Luge and Bobsled, Lake Placid February – March 1983
Physician in Training, Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs August 1982
Chairman, Sports Medicine section of United States Bobsled Association 1982-1984
Member, Sport Medicine Advisory Board, U.S. Olympic Training Center, Lake Placid
Lecturer – Various
Clinton County Coroner 1976-85
Member Board of Directors March of Dimes, Northern NY Chapter 1966-1991
Member Board of Directors Senior Citizens Council of Clinton County – 2005-2011, 2013 –
SUNY Plattsburgh Sports Hall of Fame October 1995
Eastern Athletic Trainers Association David G. Moyer Award January 2006
New York State Athletic Trainers Association Kent Scriber Award July 2015