Doctor leaves colorful, caring legacy

Posted Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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When people went to see Dr. John Schmidt, they knew they were going to receive friendly, one-on-one care, they were going to laugh a lot, and they were almost certainly going to see the 30-plus-year medical professional strutting around in his sock feet.

“Everybody who ever went to him knows he never wore shoes,” said Ann Smith, whose family started going to Schmidt not long after he opened the doors of his practice. “The kids loved it.”

When Schmidt died unexpectedly at his home June 26, at age 63, he left behind a colorful life – including earlier stints as a bass player, radio disc jock and a police officer -- that gave his friends and family much to recall.

Like the time he stitched up an injured chicken for a man who was turned away by a veterinarian.

“The vet said, ‘We don’t do chickens,’” said Schmidt’s sister, Kathy Colburn of New Waverly, near Houston. “So, there’s a photo of him stitching up a chicken.”

Schmidt, a career-long family practitioner, had been talking recently about retiring. "I’m ready to kick back and enjoy life," he told Colburn the day before his death.

On June 26, he repeated his sentiments in a post on Colburn’s facebook page at 9:12 a.m. His wife, Carol Schmidt, who worked at the doctor’s office, said she came home for lunch and found his body on the couch in front of his computer.

“He looked like he was asleep,” she said. “We’ve been telling patients that we think his heart stopped while he was asleep.”

The Tarrant Council Medical Examiner’s office attributed his death to natural causes. He had coronary artery disease and, in 1994, a heart attack followed by triple-bypass surgery, his wife said.

A memorial service for Schmidt was held July 5.

Schmidt was born May 25, 1950, in Beaumont, where he graduated high school in 1968 and played in two popular regional bands in the late 1960s. He was a disc jockey for several local radio stations until 1979. During that stretch, he earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1973 and worked briefly at a bank in Beaumont, which he didn’t like, according to his family.

His next career move was to the Beaumont police department as a patrol officer in 1974. One day he responded to a report of a fight at a pool hall.

“He got his face cut open,” Colburn said. “He didn’t want to do that anymore.”

In 1977, he left police work to pursue his medical destiny, graduating cum laude from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1983. He opened his medical practice in Mansfield in 1984.

Before long, he was known as a doctor who took the time to know and listen to his patients and answer their questions personally when they called the office. He even gave most patients his cell phone number, said Mansfield psychiatrist Pat Rabjohn, who was a kid when his family starting going to Schmidt.

“There was always a joke, or just something to lighten the mood,” he said. “It never seemed like you were at the doctor. You kind of looked forward to going.”

Rabjohn credits his experiences with Schmidt for his pursuit of his own medical career. He opened his practice five years ago and says he has tried to adopt Schmidt’s patient-friendly philosophy.

“When he was your doctor, you got a lot more access than usual,” he said. “You could just walk in. Things are a lot different now.”

Friends and family also describe Schmidt as an avid storyteller, drawing from his varied life experiences. Not surprisingly, he could lose track of time, recalled Jonas Beyene of Irving, a Texas Tech medical student who did an internship with Schmidt at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

“Often we would spend so much time with one patient because he’d get caught up telling a story that I’d have to remind him that we had patients waiting,” Beyene said. “With Dr. Schmidt, it was more about the quality of time, not the quantity.”

Schmidt’s penchant for ditching his footwear is a more recent development, arising in the past 10 years or so, said Carol Schmidt.

“For the first 20 years of working, he wore a starched shirt, tie and dress shoes,” she said. “Then he bought a bunch of monogrammed scrubs and didn’t wear shoes. I think he felt like he didn’t have to impress people anymore.”

Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641 Twitter: @Kaddmann

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