During his 50 years of practicing medicine, Dr. George Speck delivered more than 5,000 babies. Many were the babies of babies he had delivered throughout that half century as Alexandria's leading obstetrician/gynecologist.
When he retired from active practice in 1996 at age 85 he was honored by friends, colleagues and Alexandria hospital staff with a send-off celebration. That was repeated in 2005 when he was chosen Senior Services of Alexandria's "Senior Extraordinaire" and feted by a crowd of over 200 well wishers gathered in the ballroom of the then Old Town Radisson Hotel.
His reaction at that time was vintage Dr. Speck humor. "I feel like I'm attending my second funeral while still alive. When I retired from practice they gave me all these compliments and now here they are again. It reminds me of the old adage, there's never an ugly bride at a wedding and the deceased at every funeral was an outstanding individual," he told the crowd.
He died peacefully July 13 at age 96 at his home in Washington, D.C., where he had moved after many years as an Alexandria resident, surrounded by his family. "That's the way it should be," said his son David Speck, former Alexandria City Councilman.
"When I ran for office one of my friends jokingly told me I couldn't lose because my father had delivered most of the voters in Alexandria," said David Speck in recalling his father's long career and civic involvement.
"What I learned from him by example was to hold yourself to a very high standard. He had been a single parent. My mother died when I was very young and he basically raised my sister and me. Yet on top of his very busy medical practice, he found time to be the president of the Douglas MacArthur Elementary School PTA," David Speck said.
Dr. Speck's seemingly endless energy and life-long interest in medicine was attested to by two of his Alexandria Hospital colleagues, Dr. David Bernanke, an internist, and Dr. Robert Adeson, a retired surgeon.
"I came here to practice in 1964 and the first thing I did was talk to Dr. Speck. He was not only a very involved, accomplished physician but also I always found him to be absolutely honest," Bernanke said.
"He had an opinion about everything and was very influential at the hospital. That influence was not just limited to his immediate colleagues but extended to the next generation of physicians and hospital staff coming along. He was a guy who people listened to. He was true to his colors throughout his life," he said.
That assessment was buttressed by Adeson. "In addition to his family, he was absolutely devoted to his patients. And, that devotion was intense," he said.
"He would send patients to me for surgery and then he would call immediately for results. He was like a bulldog," Adeson said.
During the Senior Services event, Adeson described their professional relationship as, "I thought it was wonderful that George trusted me. He was not always easy to work with. He was wonderful to work with — just not easy."
DR.SPECK NEVER LOST interest in the medical profession even after his retirement. "He regularly attended our Tumor Board meetings at the hospital and kept right up to date until the end. He was passionate about the profession of medicine," Adeson said.
Inova Alexandria Hospital's Tumor Board gathers once a week to discuss all new cancer cases of all varieties. It is composed of physicians from all specialties that deal with the disease and its treatment. The gathering's primary purpose is to discuss and evaluate, on a team basis, the latest techniques and patients being treated.
"Dr. Speck would not just attend. He would follow up to see if the procedures being followed were bringing forth results. He wanted to know specifics. Did this work, did that work, if not why not. He attended every week into his 90's. The only reason he stopped attending was because he was not allowed to drive anymore and he hated taking cabs," Adeson said.
"He was intense about every part of his life — that applied to his golf as well. He was still taking lessons into his 80's to improve his game. If he thought he didn't make the right shot he'd go out and buy a new set of clubs," Adeson recalled.
"He was the same about his fishing. He fished all over the world. Whatever he undertook he did very well," said Bernanke.
That intensity applied to his patients and the children he
delivered. After every delivery he would sing Happy Birthday to the newborn in the delivery room, according to David Speck.
"I knew Dr. Speck for 50 years. And like half the women in Alexandria, whose babies he delivered, I immediately fell in love with him," Jane Ring told the crowd at the Radisson back in 2005. The wife of Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority Commissioner Carlyle C. "Connie" Ring, she served as an aide to Dr. Speck when he practiced medicine.
"Dr. Speck delivered our two daughters. At one point Connie was considering a position in California. I said OK but I want you to know that if I get pregnant again I'm coming back here for Dr. Speck to deliver the baby," she said upon hearing of his death.
"He was one of those rare individuals in life. I don't know of any other doctor that gave out his home phone number to his patients so they could reach him in case of an emergency. I wish there were a lot more like him," Jane Ring said.
"We have been blessed by having him practice in Alexandria. Many times when I'm talking to people they say I was delivered by Dr. Speck," said Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille. "On behalf of the City Council and all the citizens of Alexandria we extend our sympathies to David and the Speck family."
"He had a long history of building the Alexandria Hospital into a Class A operation. It has served this city well as did his practice for the citizens of Alexandria," said former Alexandria Mayor Kerry Donley.
He served as Alexandria Hospital's Chief of Staff as well as Chief of Obstetrics. Dr. Speck put Alexandria Hospital on the national map by pushing to establish the first permanent Emergency Room staff with specialty physicians.
That kicked off a national program that literally changed how ER's operate. Until that Speck initiative, ERs operated on a rotating staff basis which meant many of those assigned to that critical area of medical care were unschooled in how to operate under emergency conditions.
A native of Boston, Dr. Speck was born Jan. 4, 1911, the son of the late Morris and Betty Speck. He was the brother of the late Shirley Adler, Gertrude Troderman, Robert Speck and Clare Rosenthal.
He attended Boston Latin School, Harvard University, and the University of Michigan, from which he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He received his M.D. from George Washington's School of Medicine in 1940.
Following his internship at Cooper Hospital, Camden, N.J., Speck did his residency in obstetrics and gynecology at New York City's Bellevue Hospital. When asked why he chose to practice obstetrics his answer was, "Because it is a happy form of medicine."
His professional memberships included: Founding Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Fellow, American College of Surgeons; the International College of Surgeons; and the International Fertility Association. He also authored more than 25 professional articles.
In addition to his son David and daughter-in-law, Marcia Speck of Alexandria, Dr. Speck is survived by his daughter Betsy and son-in-law David Schlesinger of Ithaca, N.Y.; his stepdaughter Betsy and her husband Aaron Shainis of Potomac, Md.; 10 grandchildren, five great grandchildren, and five nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Doris DeFord, who died in 1956, and by his second wife, Sylvia Salomon, who died in 1995.
Services were private. Contributions may be made in his name to the Alexandria Hospital Foundation for the Speck Fund for Nursing, 4320 Seminary Road, Alexandria, VA 22304.