WINTER GARDEN — Medicine was Dr. Albert Gleason’s life, and his compassion and dedication to his field, as well as each individual patient, is what set him apart and made him a favorite local doctor for nearly 60 years.
Winter Garden lost an iconic member of the community Sunday, Sept. 6, with the death of Dr. Gleason. He was a month shy of his 104th birthday.
The physician and surgeon was known for many feats in West Orange County. He was instrumental in bringing the first hospital to the area, he helped establish Resurrection Catholic Church in Winter Garden, and he was an original member of the West Orange Country Club. He was also a citrus grower and board member of South Lake Apopka Citrus Growers’ Association.
Messages about Dr. Gleason started appearing on Facebook soon after the news of his death. People reminisced about the house calls he made in his early days as a doctor in West Orange County. They called him a cornerstone of the community and a “good-ol’ country doctor.” One resident said he must be rejoicing in heaven with former longtime Winter Garden physicians Charles Carter and Edward Bradford.
In some families, Dr. Gleason had treated four and five generations. He delivered his first great-grandchild, Michael Guard, and he delivered Dr. John Cappleman, a Winter Garden physician who in recent years was Gleason’s doctor.
“It was certainly a role reversal and a humbling honor to be his doctor,” Cappleman said. “He was a great man. He was so humble and so quiet, but yet he … had that air of intelligence and calm; whether it was medical or hospital politics, he knew the answer. It was just wisdom; not just knowledge, but wisdom.”
Dr. Gleason was born in The Bronx borough of New York City on Oct. 22, 1911, and spent much of his childhood on a dairy farm 40 miles north of Albany. He graduated in 1934 from Fordham University in New York, New York, and in 1938 from Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia. He began his practice in New Jersey before moving to Florida in 1940 with his new wife, Georgia.
Dr. Gleason served as a flight surgeon from 1942-45 with the Army Air Corps’ 92nd Bomb Group in Europe during World War II.
In 1945, the Gleasons moved to Winter Garden, and he established his medical practice. His first office was upstairs in the Black Building on Plant Street. For many years after that, he saw patients in his office on North Boyd Street. There was no hospital in Winter Garden at that time, so Dr. Gleason campaigned for one, and West Orange Memorial Hospital was opened in 1952. He helped secure the medical equipment, which came from an old hospital and cost $15 for the operating table, $15 for the operating light and a few dollars apiece for all of the beds.
Dr. Gleason served as chief of staff at this facility, and when Health Central Hospital was built in 1993 in Ocoee to replace WOMH, he was chief of staff there, as well.
Dr. Gleason practiced medicine in an era when house calls were normal routine, and he even accepted house calls at his own home. He was also known to “work something out” if a patient couldn’t pay a medical bill.
For 52 years, the doctor stepped outside of his Winter Garden home each morning and walked across the street to the hospital to see his patients and perform the surgeries.
“He did what he wanted to do,” his daughter, Frances Grubbs, said. “He practiced medicine and made house calls and did whatever he had to do for this community.”
Grubbs remembers as a child that the family supper was always eaten late — after her father made his evening rounds at the hospital.
Dr. Cappleman worked with Dr. Gleason as a medical student one summer and was amazed by his commitment.
“Patients worshipped him … and listened to what he said,” Cappleman said. “That made a big impression on me. … His manner and his calm and his reassuring manner was just wonderful.”
He remained active in the community through his final years, and it was a rare occasion when he was not approached in public by former patients, each of whom remembered his tending to their medical needs or those of a loved one.
“He was greatly appreciated by a lot in the community,” Grubbs said. “He supported anything the city wanted him to support.”
When Resurrection Catholic Church was first started, services were held in his medical office on Boyd Street. He later helped fund an expansion of the church, now on Vineland Road in Winter Garden, and Gleason Hall is named for him.
Health Central Hospital also named the Gleason Room in his honor.
Richard Irwin, the former CEO of Health Central, said Dr. Gleason made a great impact on him when he took his first position with the hospital in 1987. But the two had a connection that started before that.
Irwin was born at Hahnemann, where Dr. Gleason and Irwin’s father both attended medical school. He recalls listening to the two men reminisce about med school and the professors they both had.
“It was so much fun seeing that they had so many of the same experiences in their training and their philosophy of medicine and the important of their patients,” Irwin said. “I admired my dad, and I admired Dr. Gleason, and they were both cut from the same cloth.
“It was amazing that he had such a full life, but it was appropriate because he had so much passion for so many people in West Orange County,” Irwin said. “It’s a different place and a better place because of Dr. Gleason.”
Greg Ohe, president of Health Central Hospital, said: “A medical professional well-respected by all he encountered, Dr. Gleason put the care of his patients above everything else. His loss will be deeply felt within our hospital, as well as throughout the West Orange community.”
SURVIVORS AND SERVICES
Dr. Gleason is survived by his five children, Barbara G. (and John) Taggart, of Orlando, Frances G. (and Robert) Grubbs, of Winter Garden, Thomas A. (and Annette) Gleason, of DeLand, Jennifer G. (and Richard) Brinner, of Knoxville, Tennessee, and Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Gleason, of Princeton, New Jersey; nine grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.
He is predeceased by his wife of 56 years, Georgia H. Gleason; his parents, Thomas A. Gleason and Frances Ward Gleason; and his brother, Ward T. Gleason.
The viewing is at 11 a.m. and the funeral Mass is at noon Wednesday, Sept. 9, at Resurrection Catholic Church, 1211 Winter Garden-Vineland Road, Winter Garden. Interment will follow at Woodlawn Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Cornerstone Hospice, Winter Garden Heritage Foundation or an organization of one’s choice. Services are under the direction of Loomis Family Funeral Home, 420 W. Main St., Apopka.