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Dr. Walter R. Welzant, retired internist and kidney specialist, dies

Dr. Walter R. Welzant, retired internist and kidney specialist, dies
Dr. Walter R. Welzant was a retired internist and kidney specialist who practiced medicine for five decades. (HANDOUT)

Dr. Walter R. Welzant, a retired internist and kidney specialist who practiced medicine for five decades, died of respiratory failure May 13 at Gilchrist Hospice Care.

The Lutherville resident was 86.

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Born in Baltimore, he was the son of George Philip Welzant, an attorney and magistrate, and Martha Sadowski Welzant.

Raised on Eastern Avenue facing Patterson Park, he attended the Cathedral School and then graduated from Loyola High School in 1947. He managed the school's ice hockey team at the old Sports Centre.

During World War II, he became a civil defense messenger. In a memoir, he wrote, "I was never given a message, but I was given a helmet."

He also wrote of his early attraction to classical music. He listened to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio and watched the National Symphony on early television when sets were scarce. He found one at the Conkling Street firehouse. He said the firefighters tolerated him — up to a point.

He earned a biology degree from what is now Loyola University Maryland, where he sang in the glee club. He also performed with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Chorus.

He joined maritime unions during his college summers. At 19, as a deckhand, he sailed out of Sparrows Point on the Chilore, an ore carrier that passed through the Panama Canal bound for Chile. He later sailed on the African Endeavor for Durban, South Africa, and on the American Export Lines' Independence and United States, both passenger ships.

On the Independence, he was a bellhop and served the deck where socialite Gloria Vanderbilt and her husband, former Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowski, had a stateroom. He was later a steward on the United States.

He earned a degree at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. He recalled delivering babies while in medical school and wrote of riding with a District of Columbia Fire Department ambulance.

After medical school, he interned at the Charity Hospital in New Orleans, and then enlisted in the Navy and served aboard the USS Rehoboth as a medical officer. He left military service as a lieutenant commander.

From 1957 to 1959, he was an assistant resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital and later served as a fellow in the nephrology department at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. He studied kidney diseases under Dr. John P. Merrill.

Dr. Welzant met Mary Anne Devine, a Hopkins Hospital nurse, at a Roman Catholic alumni event at the Hotel Belvedere. The two were later married.

In 1961 he established a private practice at the Medical Arts Building. He later moved his office to Lake Avenue and York Road and finally to the Osler Medical Building in Towson.

"He gave me my first lessons in physical diagnosis," said a colleague, Dr. John Thomas Evelius. "He was a multigenerational physician who treated many family members."

"He loved being a doctor. His patients came first. All of his patients loved him because of his bedside manner," said his daughter, Anne Marie Welzant Smouse, a social worker at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. "He spent an extraordinary amount of time with them and got to know their complete histories."

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She said her father continued to make house calls through the 1980s.

"He ran what would now be considered a boutique practice, but without charging patients extra for that availability," she said.

"He had excellent clinical judgment, so he often understood what the medical issue was even before the diagnostic test came back," she said.

Another colleague, Dr. Francis X. Carmody, said: "Walter was a superb and methodical diagnostician. He kept an open mind and gave me advice. He told me to listen carefully to what a patient said. 'A patient will always tell you what's wrong with them,' he told me."

Dr. Welzant began attending Baltimore Orioles games as a teen during their old International League days at the ballpark on 29th Street in the 1930s.

"He was a die-hard Orioles fan," said his daughter. "He would never leave a game until the final out, because he never gave up on his team."

She also recalled that Dr. Welzant had "a vast knowledge of opera, classical music, astronomy, geography and ships."

"He read the National Geographic from cover to cover," she said. "He engaged in a lifelong pursuit of learning."

He also "loved being on the water and traveling — or even reading about travel," she said.

Dr. Welzant retired in 2011.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of nearly 53 years, a Towson University nursing instructor; three sons, Coast Guard Capt. Philip Welzant of Gambrills, Steven Welzant of Jarrettsville and Thomas Welzant of Timonium; and six grandchildren.

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