A philosopher once said that the formula for happiness is ‘the exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in a life offering them scope.’ Indeed, for 98 years, Dr. Shears’ life was one of vitality, humility, and excellence within a broad swath of spaces: family, friendships, profession, community and country. Even towards the end he appreciated the astonishing range and grace of his life. Listening to the tributes to John McCain, he heard the fellow Navy man say that ‘No one has ever lived a life as wonderful as I have…no one.’ Though weak, Dad silently raised his arm, pointing upwards, meaning that he, too, had lived such a life.
He was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, on October 28, 1920, to William H. and Winifred Shears. He was a brother to his siblings William, Jr., Jack, and Elizabeth Ashby, all deceased. He became an Eagle Scout in 1935, and had already decided on a medical career before graduating from Hutchinson High School in 1938. He then became a student at the Hutchinson Community Junior College before transferring to the University of Kansas, where he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta.
After gaining a B.A. degree in 1941, he went on to the University of Kansas School of Medicine. While in Kansas City, he met and fell in love with Frances Anne Pittam. They married in 1944. World War II was on, so he immediately joined the effort as a physician in the U.S. Navy, serving first in California, and then on the Pacific island of Guam. He returned to Hutchinson in 1949 as the town’s then-only pediatrician and-except for two years at the Hutchinson Naval Air Station during the Korean War-practiced there until his retirement in 1991.
As a busy physician and active citizen, he was involved and lead across multiple disciplines. He was on staff at Grace, St. Elizabeth, and Hutchinson Hospitals, was a founding member of the Medical Center, P.A., and was president of the Reno County Medical Society. He eventually served for 35 years as a director of the Hutchinson National Bank and Trust Co., and its successor, Emprise Bank. Other boards on which he sat included: the Hutchinson Hospital, the Chamber of Commerce, J.H. Shears and Sons Construction Co., Prairie Dunes Country Club, Prairie Star, the Reno County Health Department, and the Hutchinson Community Foundation. He and Frances were early promoters and supporters of the Cosmosphere.
To all of you who allowed him into your lives, as patients and parents, thank you. He considered it a sacred privilege to care for many generations of you-in his office, over the phone, and making house calls. He insisted, like the Canadian doctor William Osler, that ‘the good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.’ At his retirement celebration in June of 1991 he told the ‘Hutchinson News’: ‘You have to have respect for children, even if they are too young to understand. They’re so honest. They’re lovable little people. They’re my friends’.
His practice and his life would have been impossible without the love and stamina of his wife, Franny. She enlarged his world of possibility, cultivated a secure homefront, and helped him raise three adventurous children. To quote the poet James Doyle, our parents gave us ‘all the miles they had’ and ‘the future we walk around in every day.‘
After Franny’s death, he and Carolyn Dillon became dear friends and constant companions. His children are forever grateful for her love and faithfulness.
Side by side with his work and responsibilities, he passionately believed in play and hope. Time and again he repeated his axiom that ‘one must always have something to look forward to.’ With family and friends he loved to ski Colorado slopes in a white-out; sail his boat on the very edge, full tilt, sail humming; climb a fourteen-thousand foot peak; chase balls on the tennis court and golf course in 102 degree temperatures; celebrate the Fourth of July with magical (and very loud!) fireworks; and watch ferocious Kansas storms build and break across the prairie sky. He confessed that, if he hadn’t been a doctor, he would have loved to be a weatherman or a pilot.
He wasn’t a perfect man. He knew his imperfections, and always searched for a better way of being. But, he didn’t wallow. He repeated an inescapable truth: ’You can never be reconciled as long as you feel guilty. No one can be all things to everyone. To be loved is to be forgiven.’
With his loss, he leaves three children: Susan (and her husband, Jim Hubbard), of Prairie Village, KS, Christopher N. Shears (and wife, Betsy) of Boulder, CO, and Carolyn I. Shears, of Newton Highlands, MA. Also, four grandchildren: Matthew and Sarah Hubbard, Jen Shears (and husband, Bill Wright), and Andrew Shears. He also leaves his devoted companion, Carolyn Dillon.
The family wishes to express their profound gratitude to the staff at Hester, Wesley Towers, and Hospice and HomeCare of Reno County, for their compassionate care of our father.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts can be made to the Cosmosphere, 1100 N. Plum, Hutchinson, KS 67501, or the Hutchinson Community College Endowment Fund, 1300 North Plum, Hutchinson, KS 67501.
There will be a private family memorial service at a later date. Friends may sign the book at Elliott Mortuary, 1219 N. Main, Hutchinson, KS 67501.