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William T. Close, M.D.: June 7, 1924-Jan. 15, 2009

Posted: Thursday, Jan 29th, 2009

Dr. William T. Close, husband, father, grandfather, physician, surgeon, country doc, author, pilot, fly fisherman and dog lover, died suddenly on Thursday, Jan. 15 at his home in Big Piney. He was 84.

Close, a twin, was born minutes after his surviving brother, Edward B. Close of Littleton, Colo. As a boy Bill was educated at Summer Fields School, then Harrow, in England, then St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H. He attended Harvard.

Bill and Bettine Moore married at the age of eighteen in Greenwich, Conn., where both their families had lived for several generations. During World War II, Bill served as a troop carrier pilot in Europe and was personal pilot and interpreter for General Joseph Harper.

Upon returning from the war he met his firstborn, Tina. As their family grew with another daughter, Glenn, and then a son, Alexander, Bill attended Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons on the GI Bill of Rights.

After a surgical residency at the Roosevelt Hospital in New York City and after the birth of their fourth child, Jessie, in 1953, Dr. Close spent sixteen years in Africa, often joined by his wife and children. He arrived in the Congo just before independence and in time for the mutinies, coup d’états and rebellions that have marked the history of that country.

For his first year there, Dr. Close was responsible for surgery as one of only three doctors in the capital city’s 2,000-bed hospital. He became the personal physician to the president, and chief doctor for the Congolese Army, as well as seeing any citizen who came to his clinic for care. In 1967 Bill took over the management of the general hospital.

In 1976, during the first Ebola fever outbreak in the Congo, Dr. Close supervised logistics for the international team of scientists dealing with the epidemic. Between 1994 and 1996 he was in the Congo three times to rebuild the nine major operating rooms as well as the emergency services in the general hospital which had fallen into disrepair.

Dr. Close is the author of four books, including Ebola: Through the Eyes of the People; A Doctor’s Life: Unique Stories; and Subversion of Trust, a novel. His most recent book is Beyond the Storm: Treating the powerless and the powerful in Mobutu’s Congo/Zaire.

Dr. William T. Close is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians. He is the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the University of Utah. He was a proud member of his local American Legion Post 78.

In his later years Bill Close, in his 57th year of medical practice, continued to care for patients in Sublette County Wyoming and surrounding areas in what he called “a gentle, limited practice” through a Community Home Care Program which he and his long-time nurse, Deanne Bradley, organized. He brought comfort and peace to many patients during their last days by visiting them in their homes.

Bill Close was an advocate for patients and a foe to medical bureaucracy. He was a teacher, a speaker, a man of indomitable will and an indefatigable fighter of great integrity, empathy and tenderness. Besides his wife Bettine and their four children, Bill left six grandchildren and many good friends and colleagues behind. We who loved him shall miss him into eternity.

Doc’s grandson Sander has created a web site, www.in memoryofdocclose.org, if you would like to view part of the service celebrating Dr. Bill Close’s extraordinary life.

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