Dr. James E. Fragetta, a popular Lutherville pediatrician who as a member of the medical advisory board of the Claire Marie Foundation worked to develop melanoma prevention programs, died Sunday from pancreatic cancer at Gilchrist Center Towson.
The longtime Gaywood resident was 58.
“First of all, as a doctor, he was exceptional, and as a pediatrician, Jim was ahead of the curve,” said former longtime WBAL-TV news anchor Marianne Banister, a Lutherville resident, whose late daughter, Claire Marie Wagonhurst, had been his patient.
“He addressed the whole child and took the holistic approach. He was every kid’s champion,” Ms. Banister said. “Jim was with us from our daughter Claire’s birth, and he was there with us when we lost her, and then helped us get through our grief.”
“Jim was a great teacher, mentor and physician and was bigger than life,” said Dr. Kirsten M. Brinkmann, a pediatrician, a partner of Dr. Fragetta’s in the Maryland Pediatric Group, and a mentee of his when she was a student at Johns Hopkins.
“He was a wonderful teacher and was always a commanding presence whenever speaking to students, patients and their parents,” said Dr. Brinkmann. “You were never unimportant and he always gave you his full attention. He always had enough time for people, and while a proud man, was never boastful.”
Del. Stephen W. Lafferty of Stoneleigh is an old friend. “Jim was very outgoing and friendly,” Mr. Lafferty said. “He was open to who you were and never passed judgment.”
James Edward Fragetta, the son of William Fragetta, a metallurgical engineer, and his wife, Jeanne Fragetta, a homemaker, was born and raised in West Caldwell, N.J.
After graduating from Seton Hall Preparatory School in West Orange, N.J., he received a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1982 from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., and then took a job working from 1982 to 1986 in the clinical research division of the pharmacology department at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
He met his future wife, Karen Campbell, during their first week as Bucknell freshmen. They married in 1988.
He earned his medical degree in 1990 from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine and then came to Baltimore to complete his pediatric residency at Johns Hopkins.
Dr. Fragetta practiced in Carroll County before joining the Maryland Pediatric Group in Lutherville in 1999.
“With the pediatric group, he was our anchor, our center and calming force. He was steadfast in his moral compass. He was very smart, in-depth, and a great leader. He was a leader in everything he did,” Dr. Brinkmann said.
“Jim was larger than life and a man of great stature. He was a tall man who could hold newborn babies in one hand. It was such a beautiful image. He was a gentle giant,” said Dr. Brinkmann, a Hunt Valley resident.
“He had a booming voice and you could hear him down the hallway. His laughter was infectious. He was such a jolly and jovial guy, and we were his second family,” she said.
Dr. Fragetta’s office was somewhat unconventional and was decorated with baseball and football memorabilia and small action figures that he used to amuse children who were patients.
“His favorite hero was Captain America, and he had framed covers of Marvel Comics in his examination room,” Dr. Brinkmann said. “He was just a big kid at heart. He could put people at ease with his super hero powers.”
Claire Wagonhurst was a 13-year-old student athlete at Notre Dame Preparatory School and a patient of Dr. Fragetta’s. After a mole on her ankle changed color, he suggested it be removed and checked for cancer. A biopsy and resulting diagnosis revealed that Claire had malignant melanoma, the “deadliest form of skin cancer,” reported The Baltimore Sun in a 2015 article about her life.
When Dr. Fragetta received a call from Claire’s parents in 2014, he rushed to their home, where she was being cared for by home hospice. “He cleared his calendar,” Ms. Banister recalled. “We did not expect it to be Claire’s last day. But he held our hands as she transitioned from us. He mourned with us.”
Ms. Banister, her husband, Rocky Wagonhurst, director of sales at WJZ-TV, and their oldest daughter, Hillary, established the Claire Marie Foundation, whose mission was stopping adolescent and young adult melanoma.
Dr. Fragetta served on the foundation’s medical advisory board, where he helped develop and launch melanoma prevention programs directed at adolescents and young adults, including its free screening program and Claire Wagonhurst Guest Lectureship at Johns Hopkins, which better educated resident dermatologists and pediatricians about the subtleties of the disease in young people.
“This program powered us through and helped us do what we do. Through the years, he has helped so many children and the list goes on and on,” Ms. Banister said. “We were so blessed to have had Jim in our lives.”
Dr. Fragetta was diagnosed with the cancer that took his life a year ago.
“Even though he could no longer see patents, he still came in and worked behind the scenes helping where he could,” Dr. Brinkmann said.
For 15 years, Dr. Fragetta coached girls basketball, lacrosse and soccer for the Towson Recreation Council, and with his wife, a psychologist, helped redevelop the Towson Recreation girls basketball program and the establishment of the Jena Gans Legacy Award.
“I got to know him through the Towson High School Sports Boosters,” said Mr. Lafferty. “One, he was very focused; two, he was dedicated; and three, very engaging. He cared about the students and the community projects he was involved with.”
A 25-year resident of Gaywood, Dr. Fragetta and his wife were for the last two years co-presidents of the Gaywood Community Association.
“Jim tirelessly supported Gaywood in countless ways, from opening his home for neighbors for annual cocktail parties to flipping burgers every picnic to hauling dirt in wheelbarrows during our annual spring cleanup and on and on,” according to a post on the Gaywood Facebook page.
“The man always seemed to be in motion, and endless stream of energy and determination. His indelible imprint on our neighborhood will remain an inspiration for years to come.”
In addition to being a sports fan, Dr. Fragetta enjoyed being a gourmet cook.
“That was one of his passions and he did everything from scratch and he loved sharing recipes,” recalled Dr. Brinkmann.
He was a communicant of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday.