Dr. Walter Lear Passes

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Walter Lear, MD, MPH, a long time gay rights, public health advocate, physician and health care activist passed away earlier today, Saturday, May 29th, 2010 at Keystone Hospice.  Walter had been in ill health for more than a year.  A  Memorial service will be held at the Rare Book Collection on the 6th Floor of Van Pelt Library at the University of Pennsylvania on Saturday June 19, 2010 at 2:00 p.m.  Over many years Walter built the US Health Left Archive which he had donated to the University of Pennsylvania in the past few years.  He leaves his partner, James Payne and many, many friends.

Walter had collaborated with our online journal Social Medicine in the past several years.  He wrote an editorial in 2007 entitled: US Health Professionals Oppose War.  Last year we published an extensive interview with Walter about his life and his work.  He had also loaned us materials from his collection some of which we have published in the journal.

In the words of his friend, Walter Tsou: “I will greatly miss his attack on corporations and those who put profits over patients.  He was an ever vigilant defender of the poor, underserved and those who did not have a voice.  And he was a vocal spokesperson for single payer, national health insurance.”

Walter, we will miss you.

Matt Anderson, MD

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8 Responses to “Dr. Walter Lear Passes”


  1. 1David Rosner

    Thank you, Walter. We will miss you….

  2. 2Alan Meyers

    Somehow I missed the news of Walter’s passing. I visited him at the hospice when I was in Philly for the APHA meetings last November. I hadn’t seen him for over 30 years but he remembered me and what he wanted to talk about was what I had been up to over the decades. I met Walter as a medical student at Penn when he rebirthed the Philly MCHR chapter, and spent lots of time with him at meetings and actions. What I will always remember is what a sweetheart he was…yes he was a towering figure to all of us who see medicine, health care, and public health as part of the broad front of the struggle for social justice, here and everywhere, but what Walter showed me was that it could be done with humor, and a gentle and loving heart. One could feel it radiating from him.

  3. 3Richard Rogers

    Walter Lear was a giant. Medical doctor, health activist,gay political advocate and generous friend to many folks his death impacts all who knew him but fails to diminish his stature. I first made Walter’s aquaintance when he and his lover first visited me when I lived in a garret during my freshman year as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. His interest in the nascent Gay Liberation Movement provided a basis for a life long friendship we shared and he remains for me the rarest of all things,a hero.

  4. 4Quentin Young, M.D.

    With his death, Walter’s superb contributions to left political thought in the field of health care comes to an end. I join the myriad progressives nationwide to mourn his passing.

    Walter was a founder and invaluable leader of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. His most enduring contribution was his relentless pursuit of the history of the health left in the last half of the 20th century. This work is the most laudable monument to his life as an intellectual activist.

    What he would want is a renewed effort for positive change in our health system. His life inspires us all to follow this admonition.

    Quentin D. Young, M.D., M.A.C.P.
    Chicago, Illinois

  5. 5William Bronston, MD

    Walter was a mentor from my earliest experience organizing the Student Health Organization and the early MCHR, expecting health care to become a universal right in America. He was a lifelong friend. He was originality and vision incarnate in our mid 20th Century struggles for human rights. He chose to pioneer a path of awareness and sensitivity in health care activism unparalleled in clarity, persistence and substance. He wrote continuously and fiercely. He lived the moving love of agape in our community of progressive activist brothers and sisters. His death changes his leadership dynamics but not an iota of his passionate agenda. In reflection and embrace of the Walter I internalized growing up, my sadness is boundless and awe inspired. He makes us better for being…and that has not changed at all. William Bronston, MD

  6. 6martin gittelman

    With the passing of Walter Lear we have lost a friend as well as a militant for public health,equality and human rights.
    I first met Walter during the Freedom Rides and the Medical Committee for Human Rights in the 1960’s.
    Let us discuss meeting also in Denver at the American Public Health Association conference to discuss how best to commemorate his life and continue organizing to achieve our objectives.

  7. 7Ellen Shaffer

    Walter was a motivational and visionary presence in public health. We will miss him indeed.

  8. 8Josh Freeman

    I am very sorry to read this. I did not know Walter more than to say hello to at APHA meetings, especially of the Socialist Caucus and other progressive groups, but he was a strong consistent and principled presence from the time I began attending APHA in the early 1980s.
    He will certainly be missed.

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