Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Look Back: VADM George Weynes Calver, MC, USN (1884-1972)

VADM George W. Calver in his Congressional Office, 1966

BUMED Library and Archives

Navy physicians have served practically everywhere—on Polar explorations, in equatorial jungles, and even outer space. Perhaps no less mundane, and arguably as exiting, is the unique post of Attending Physician to Congress which was created in 1928, and first occupied by the U.S. Navy’s Dr. George Weynes Calver.

As birth and renewal always follows death and decay; Dr. George Weynes Calver’s post was conceived only after a succession of congressional deaths in April of 1928. Most alarming of these was that of Representative Martin Barnaby Madden, IN (R) who suffered a heart attack in his office on 27 April and was left unattended for two hours before finally succumbing to his neglect. News of Representative Madden’s untimely end chimed throughout Capitol Hill highlighting the need for an onsite capital physician who could attend to the health affairs of Senators and Representatives.

Representative Fred Britten, IL, Chairman of the House Naval Affairs, took special interest in recruiting this prospective caregiver. After conferring with Speaker of the House Nickolas Longworth, Britten submitted House Resolution 253 to the 70th Congress. This bill, which stated that the “Secretary of the Navy is hereby requested to assign a medical officer of the Navy to be in attendance at the Hall of the House of Representatives,” was agreed upon unanimously. And on 8 December 1928, LCDR George Calver, MC, USNR, then on assignment at the Naval Dispensary in Washington, DC, was chosen for this position.

The son of a District of Colombia doctor, Dr. Calver was born in the capital city on 24 November 1887. After obtaining his Medical Degree from The George Washington University Medical School, Calver chose a career in the U.S. Navy. Dr. Calver, would spend 45 years out of his 53- year service career and 76 years of his life in Washington, DC. This is not to say that some of his non-Washington duty stations were not without worth. While serving at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Canacao, Philippines, Calver met and married Ms. Jesse Willits, the daughter of Rear Admiral Albert B. Willits. Both of Dr. and Mrs. Calver’s offspring—two daughters—would eventually marry Navy physicians.

When Calver first reported to his new assignment in 1928, he was a man with little hope of serving more than then three years in this capacity. Much to his surprise, at the close of his tenure, in 1931, Congress prohibited Dr. Calver’s departure, marking his post as “permanent.” Although the official reason may not be on public record, one must wonder if Dr. Calver’s effectiveness in the role was somehow bolstered by a charming, yet professional, personality. In a sense, Dr. Calver was the perfect physician for House (of Representatives) calls; being ever-equipped with his medical bag of sage advice. “Give 5 per cent of your time to keeping well,” advised Calver. “You won’t have to give 100 per cent getting over being sick.” And if photographs offer any clues into the nature of a human being’s soul, then Dr. Calver was a kind and caring grand fatherly type—even as a young man he wore a cloak of maturity.

During his long tenure as Attending Physician, which stretched 38 years, Dr. Calver earned a reputation as a cardiologist. And his office located in the Capitol building was said to have contained the largest collection electro-cardiograph reports in the world.

As should be expected, Dr. George Calver’s profession came before his politics. As he often reminded his partisan pals, “There’s not a whit of difference between Democratic and Republican belly aches—they all hurt.”

By the time of his retirement in 1966, it was evident that Dr. Calver had made an impact on the health of his patients: all varieties of Senators and Representatives; congressional officials, and employees; reporters and even tourists. Dr. Calver once estimated that less than 6 members of Congress died compared to the average of 20 per year in 1928. One of his patients—then a freshman Senator from Missouri—adopted Dr. Calver’s prescribed practice of daily walks. Even after becoming President, Harry S. Truman continued this form of exercise.

Upon his retirement in September 1966, Dr. Calver was promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral. His retirement was short-lived, however, as VADM Calver passed away at his home in Washington, DC on 27 February 1972.

Perhaps Admiral Calver’s legacy is best encapsulated in one of his pithy sayings: “Make a man live correctly to be well and he will hate but respect you. But if you cure him of his ills resulting from his own folly he will think you a saint on earth.” Healthy advice for politicians and non-politicians, alike.


BUMED Library and Archives, Biography and Photograph Collection
Congressional Record – House of Representatives, 12 October 1966
Rouh, DM. “Physician to Congress.” The Washington Evening Star Pictorial Magazine. 14 June 1953

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