To some, Dr. Robert McFarland was a hero who worked tirelessly for the underdog.
To others, he was an irritant who harped on his pet causes until your eyes glazed over.
And to at least one, he was all of these things.
“I’m 79. I kind of count the exceptional people in my life,” said Dr. Raymond Leidig, a Boulder psychiatrist and longtime friend of Dr. McFarland. “And he was at the top of the list.” But, no, he wasn’t always the most pliable person. “He was,” said Leidig, “an irascible, stubborn, lovable nut.”
Dr. McFarland died of stomach cancer Nov. 22. He was 79.
Founder of many Boulder clinics for people in crisis, he was born Sept. 18, 1929, in Ames, Iowa.
He attended Kenyon College in Ohio and later graduated from the University of Iowa Medical School with honors.
After an internship at San Francisco General Hospital, a stint in the Navy and two residencies, he and his wife, Zoe, settled in Boulder, where Dr. McFarland set up a practice in internal medicine. He often donated his services to the young people who wandered in.
“It was the hippie era,” recalled Zoe. “They were coming through Boulder in droves. And Bob started taking care of them. They’d bring their dogs and they really weren’t very clean. Some of his patients were not too happy about that, so his business fell off.”
In response, Dr. McFarland helped found the People’s Clinic in 1970, a facility that continues to offer health care to low-income and uninsured patients.
In the early 1980s, he also helped found the Parenting Place. The idea came to him after 3-year-old Michael Manning was beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend in a highly publicized case.
“Bob thought it was due to (the fact that) a lot of people don’t know how to cope with young children,” Zoe said.
The clinic provides a place for parents to find support services while their children play.
Dr. McFarland also was instrumental in founding the Boulder Valley Clinic, Colorado’s first abortion clinic, as well as a Boulder methadone clinic. He served as a physician at the Boulder County Jail and was a consultant to the Northern Cheyenne Nation in Montana.
He eschewed the McMansions and fancy cars that some physicians seem to accumulate like so many tongue depressors.
“Years ago I said to Bob, ‘Bob, I made $100,000 last year,’ ” recalls Leidig, who often worked in public health like McFarland. “And he said, ‘So did I, Ray. But it took me three years.’ That was the kind of approach he had, that money didn’t matter much.”
When he wasn’t promoting health issues, Dr. McFarland was often busy canvassing Boulder with petitions for political causes.
“He’d start out at the Farmer’s Market,” Zoe said. That was “probably the most liberal place you could start,” she explained. “Then he’d go to the Pearl Street Mall.”
Evan Ravitz, who collaborated with Dr. McFarland on several causes, recalled that the doctor often would wear a hat with a piece of paper slipped into the brim. On it, he would write the cause he was promoting that day.
“It got attention, and when I would do it – since I happen to look slightly like Lincoln and the paper makes it look like a stovepipe hat – it was like magic.”…
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