Robert Florence was too humble to share stories of his Tacoma-based medical career, his family says, but he had an excellent memory for his patients and procedures.
“He didn’t like to talk much about his accomplishments,” daughter Judy Florence said. “But when we have been out and about, people have said, ‘You operated on my son, my daughter, myself.’ He very often remembered them.”
The former orthopedic surgeon died of natural causes Feb. 20 in Tacoma. He was 96.
Florence is credited with helping start a screening regimen for scoliosis in Tacoma Public Schools, training nurses to examine students’ spines
The ailment was one he decided to focus on in the 1950s, his daughter said.
“The protocol was basically: ‘Let’s wait and see,’ ” Judy Florence said of the medical community at the time. “Nothing got done, and it frustrated him.”
She said her father flew to Texas to learn about the Harrington rod, a device implanted inside the spine that revolutionized scoliosis treatment, and then flew back to Tacoma to treat patients with it.
He graduated from the University of Oklahoma Medical School about 1941 and interned at Providence Hospital in Seattle right around the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor at the start of U.S. involvement in World War II.
Florence volunteered to be an Army medical officer and was a field surgeon overseas not long after the Normandy invasion.
“He talked about how often they were dealing with injuries from land mines,” Judy Florence said. “It was taking care of people who had arms and legs injured. That got him interested in orthopedics.”
After the war, he and his wife settled in Tacoma, where he worked as a general practitioner while commuting to Seattle to further study orthopedics at the University of Washington.
He is survived by daughters Judy Florence, Sue Balsiger and Jayne Holgerson, and was predeceased by his wife, Helen.