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Lodi icon, Norman King, heading to Community Hall of Fame

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Posted: Sunday, September 18, 2005 10:00 pm

Dr. Norman King has been involved in a lot of "firsts" in Lodi. He was Lodi's first certified anesthesiologist, now retired. He was one of the original board members for Hutchins Street Square, where he's now "king of the Knights of the Upright," also known as Vacuum Buddies. He helped start the first free-standing outpatient surgery center in Lodi, which became the first non-smoking hospital.

And he helped found the Lodi Boys' Club, now the Lodi Boys and Girls Club.

These are just a few of King's many accomplishments.

For his contributions to health, he has been nominated to the Lodi Community Hall of Fame. Other inductees this year include Gersh Rosen, for education; Jack Carter, a retired long-time Lodi business owner; the late Carl Wishek Sr., long-time leader of Farmers and Merchants Bank; and John and Gail Kautz, local farmers who work in the wine business.

King was born in Seattle on Sept. 19, 1922. He received a bachelor of science from the University of Washington and his MD from Wayne State Medical School in Detroit. He interned in Seattle and had a general practice residency in Salinas. He had an anesthesiology residency at Bellevue Medical Center in New York City and served in the U.S. Navy during WWII.

He had a general practice in Roseville and expected to work in Sacramento from there, but was drafted as a doctor into the Korean War. Afterward, he no longer had a general practice.

Lodi needed a certified anesthesiologist; King said Lodi Memorial Hospital hadn't been open for long, and tragedy struck, as two patients had died after receiving anesthetics. So, he moved to Lodi to work and met his future wife Joy, a surgical nurse at St. Joseph's Hospital. They were married in 1957.

"Lodi Memorial Hospital grew and grew and grew," he said, adding that doctors became unhappy because as they worked on their patients, they had to attend to emergency patients.

He and a group of 10 doctors decided to start a freestanding outpatient center; it was the only one in Northern California at the time. It also was the first non-smoking hospital.

King's goal was to help patients be as comfortable as possible before surgery. He started to let parents be in the room when the children received anesthetic and come back in the room as the children awoke so that it never looked as though the children were alone.

"I wanted to make it more pleasant -- not a frightening experience," King said.

When he was a child, he had a bad experience with anesthesia. Later in life, it became something he wanted to do so he could help make the experience better.

Before surgery, he met with patients and went to the operating floor with them. He saw them after the operation, and then checked with them a few days afterward. He received many letters of thanks from his patients. Being in general practice had helped him learn how to diagnose conditions, so he did pre-operation evaluations, which sometimes resulted in canceling surgeries, as some people couldn't have anesthesia.

"It gave me the background to be a good anesthesiologist," he said.

Norman King

His wife, Joy, said that things have changed since then; anesthesiologists don't meet with their patients.

"He's been incredibly devoted," she said. "He devoted his life to making things better for patients."

As for other things King has been involved with, he was one of the original board members of Hutchins Street Square. They did lots of fund-raisers to begin paying the city back for the building.

For the past several years, he and other people have been Vacuum Buddies -- or Knights of the Upright. He vacuums Hutchins Street Square about twice a week.

King has been on the board for Delta Blood Bank for 50 years and was one of 30 charter members of the Lodi Boys' Club. He started the junior high essay contest for the Lodi Breakthrough Club, a group that promotes understanding of diversity and harmony among people.

He recently went to Japan to give a lecture on one-day surgery, a concept he said seemed difficult for the Japanese to grasp. King lectured in Japan for the 40th anniversary of a department of anesthesiology started by a Japanese surgeon under him.

King has a daughter and three grandchildren; he lost his son Kevin in 1981. Kevin King attended Science Camp and had been a counselor when he was in high school, so Norman King started a memorial fund for low-income children who wanted to go to Science Camp. When the program was dropped, King donated the rest of the money in the fund to the schools for science activities.

Contact reporter Jennifer Snyder at jennifers@lodinews.com.

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