The Way We Were: Bill and Dottie McLear

The Way We Were: Bill and Dottie McLear
McLear wedding, 1976

Retired now, and living quietly in the Lakewood high-rise where they have resided for 27 years, Bill and Dottie McLear have many memories of shared adventures over their 41 years of marriage. 

Needlepoint of the QE2 created by Dottie McLear

Needlepoint of the QE2 created by Dottie McLear

“I was working as the office manager for Bill’s private practice of orthopedic surgery on the Southside when we fell in love,” recalled Dottie, sharing their wedding photo taken at her home in Avondale. After a small wedding ceremony, the couple departed for a honeymoon cruise aboard the Queen Elizabeth II…the first of many cruises they were destined to take together. 

A pretty needlepoint on the wall of Dottie’s art studio commemorates their 1976 wedding cruise on the QE2. The needlepoint is surrounded by Dottie’s beautiful, colorful paintings depicting many of the exotic places they’ve traveled. “I take photos and then paint the scenes,” she said, pointing to a tropical scene she painted from a photo she took in Puerto Rico. 

An artist all her life, Dottie was born and raised in Jacksonville, the daughter of Queenie and Carl Johnson, whose home was just two blocks away from the legendary Treaty Oak on Prudential Drive. 

Dottie recalls climbing the Treaty Oak with her siblings regularly as a child. She also recalls sitting on the front porch railing in 1941 with her late brothers, Roger and Carl, and watching the construction of the Main Street Bridge. 

Prior to the bridge, her father, Carl (nicknamed “Pete”) Johnson, had become First Engineer on the ferry boat, “Jackson,” that traveled back and forth across the St. Johns River. Later, “Pete” Johnson operated various tug boats in the area and, during WWII, worked in the Gibbs Shipyard repairing and overhauling engines on Naval vessels.

Dottie and Bill McLear

Dottie and Bill McLear

Bridges have played an important role in Dr. William Z. McLear’s history as well. As an active Boy Scout in Wayne, Pennsylvania, Bill earned his Eagle Scout with Bronze Palm by building a bridge. Much later in his life, he became a major “bridge builder” as Director of Medical Affairs, Baptist Medical Center (BMC), BMC-Beaches and BMC-Nassau…successfully and consistently bridging the frequent gaps of understanding between medical and administrative staff for more than 18 years. 

“Bill’s responsibilities were to be the interface between several hundred physicians on the Baptist medical staff and our hospital administration and Board of Trustees,” said Bill Mason, former CEO of Baptist Medical Center. “He did a great job of coordinating medical staff policies and procedures and handling physician personnel decisions in a wise and consistent way. Bill McLear is one of the reasons that Baptist has been so well recognized for its culture of compassion and high-quality patient care.” 

McLear recalls that taking on the new administrative position and leaving his successful practice as an orthopedic surgeon was a tough decision.

In an article entitled “Reorientation of goals in Orthopedic Surgery,” McLear wrote: “…I have not forsaken medicine, I have only changed hats to a position where I feel I can do more for private practicing physicians and their relationships with our institution than in any other way.”

Changing hats was a gutsy and adventurous move for the well-established surgeon, but one that fit his personality well. 

For instance, after graduating from Medical School at the University of Pennsylvania, McLear joined the Navy and became the Navy’s Chief Flight Surgeon to Marine Aircraft Group 26 in Jacksonville, North Carolina back in the late 1950s. There he was deployed aboard a converted aircraft carrier with Marine helicopter squadrons on training missions in the Caribbean and in support of the early Mercury Space Program. 

Aboard the Respite

Aboard the Respite

He later was assigned to the Orthopedic Surgery Department at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida and, during the Vietnam War, was named Officer-In-Charge, Surgical Team Bravo, for Marines involved in the amphibious fleet making assaults along the coast of Vietnam. In that capacity, he served aboard the USS Tripoli and the USS Valley Forge, providing medical care to hundreds of wounded Marines and eventually being recognized with the Legion of Merit for his service to his country.

Back in Jacksonville following his time in Vietnam, McLear resigned his commission in the Navy to enter private practice with Southside Orthopedics, P.A.   During his leisure moments, he captained his 44-foot DeFever Trawler, “Respite,” spending many weekends sailing the East Coast of the U.S. with his wife, Dottie, acting as “first mate.” 

He also continued to soar in the air, flying his single-engine Piper Comanche, having earned private and commercial pilot’s licenses with instrument and multi-engine ratings. And, speaking of soaring, McLear’s lifelong love of music enhances the choir at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church, and his deep, clear singing voice was also heard regularly when he sang with the River City Men’s Chorus.    

Looking back at his eventful life, McLear admits that he is an adventurer who has always loved a challenge. 

“I was 16 years old when four of us Boy Scouts attempted to climb Mt. Marci, the highest mountain in the Adirondacks,” he said. “We were in sub-zero temperatures, the mountain had a bald top and was covered with ice, but we attempted the climb anyway and nearly made it.” 

Article announcing Bill McLear’s 1984 appointment to Baptist Medical Center

Article announcing Bill McLear’s 1984 appointment to Baptist Medical Center

When he was 70, McLear earned his scuba diving license “because I hadn’t done that yet.” 

Julie Mason, former head of Baptist Health Systems Foundation and, with her husband Bill, a close friend of the McLears, laughs when she remembers a bet she made with Bill McLear. 

“I told him he was so smart, I thought he could pass the Mensa exam, and he took the challenge. He is now a Mensa!” she said. Mensa is the largest and most prestigious high IQ society in the world. 

And, while her husband continues to be the consummate professional and the go-to guy for sound medical advice to friends and family, Dottie McLear’s passion for art keeps her busy painting and sharing those paintings with others. 

“Dottie is a loving and kind woman, a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, and her painting is a reflection of those qualities,” said her devoted husband, adding that because art is healing, too, both he and Dottie have been lifelong healers. 

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