Family and friends of Oscar Syme, M.D., 91, came together to remember him and celebrate his life in a story-filled non-religious service at the University of New Mexico Memorial Chapel.
Oscar was a pediatrician for 38 years in Albuquerque, providing practical, no-nonsense, compassionate medical care for thousands of children and soothing their anxious parents. He was recognized everywhere he went in town, and his children and grandchildren still get the question, “Are you related to THE Dr. Syme?”
He was born in 1919 on a ranch near Laramie, Wyoming and was inspired to become a physician at the age of nine. That’s when he became seriously ill and local doctor came to care for him, staying at the ranch a few days until he got well. From a small cow town in Wyoming during the Depression, Oscar used his brilliant mind to secure scholarships for college. He became one of those doctors who made house calls.
He knew he wanted to be a physician, but it wasn’t until he served as a doctor at a military base in the Philippines during World War II that he decided to be a pediatrician. His medical school and residency training took place in New York City, where he met and married his wife Miriam, who was the breadwinner during that time. They returned to Albuquerque where he opened his pediatrics practice in 1949.
Those who eloquently spoke about Oscar included his three children, two grandchildren, several in-laws, brother, neighbors and colleagues. They painted a portrait of a dedicated doctor, father, fly fisher, golfer, and master gardener. Their stories richly detailed a tremendously active man of many talents with a deep love of life.
One son did a show-and-tell presentation with several items: the bamboo fly rod his father inherited from his father, one of many putters Dad hoped would be the magic wand that would improve his score a few points, and a handmade carpentry box used to this day.
The daughter talked about how Dad would read to her at bedtime when she was a child and showed the Dr. Seuss book that was her favorite. She spoke of how Oscar was always buying his wife jewelry for birthdays and special events. He always got lovely pieces that she asked for, until the year she didn’t specify anything in particular and he gave her a “dust buster.” That didn’t sit too well, and in penance he brought her breakfast in bed every month on the 12th, her birth date. On her next birthday, Oscar gave his wife a “dust buster” made of turquoise, which the daughter wore proudly around her neck.
Oscar was famous for wearing bow ties and being a lifelong learner, hiking the La Luz Trail for the first time at the age of 80, backpacking with a homemade tent and sleeping bag, and being a great photographer who made slide shows every Christmas that detailed the family’s year. The vegetables and flowers he grew were legendary. He was a jogger before jogging was popular.
Dr. Omar Legant, whose friendship with “Ozzie” goes back to the 1940s, spoke fondly of times spent fishing and golfing with him. He also mentioned Oscar’s descent into Alzheimers disease toward the end of his life, saying, “It seems customary at memorial services to share amusing stories, but I can’t think of anything funny… It’s painful to see a fine mind unravel and drift away.”
The service ended with the observation that “We did a good job of celebrating his life today.” Everyone was invited to the youngest son’s home for a reception to continue the conversation.
Dr. Oscar Syme, your spirit lives on in the many people you have touched. As your youngest son said, we mourn your passing and celebrate the magnificent being that you were and still are.