Gerald Besson, MD. “Gerry” lived a long full life filled with intellectual pursuits, physical adventures and deep love. Although accomplished in his field, Gerry often had a certain twinkle in his eye that belied his keen sense of humor. He was a true renaissance man as a caring physician, respected community leader, expert skier, accomplished musician, graceful dancer, avid golfer, successful marathoner, devoted father, loving husband, and so much more.
He had humble beginnings growing up in New York City, and after earning a degree from City College of New York, he went on to do high altitude research for the Navy. In true Gerry fashion, he was so fascinated by his research that he returned to school to get his Medical Degree from Boston University graduating in 1950 with Honors. Working as a family physician in a small town in Kentucky, he was inspired to pursue post-graduate training in internal medicine, and went back to train at Mt. Sinai in New York. In 1955, after completing his specialty training, his passion for the great outdoors motivated him to move his family out west to a then small town of apricot orchards, Los Altos. He set up his internal medicine practice in Sunnyvale and considered himself a hands-on “country doctor’ until his retirement in 1991.
In addition to hands-on clinical work, for 35 years he held a clinical teaching position at Stanford University. As he was a man who would see a need and strive to fill it, he noticed there was a dearth of hospitals in the Bay Area. So he, along with a group of other physicians founded El Camino Hospital. He was elected by his colleagues as the hospital’s first Chief of Staff and served as the Chairman of the Executive Committee. These roles lead him to represent the California Medical Association in the National arena, where he actively campaigned for the passage of the original Medicare bill. This work led to him serving as a consultant to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare on a variety of projects for the subsequent 10 years. He continued his clinical work in Sunnyvale, but continued to commute to Washington DC frequently. One project that the Surgeon General requested he work on was to create an Institute of Professional Standards, a national program geared to establish Physician Peer Review Standards required for hospital admission and patient care. These standards have become widely established and are still used today in all leading hospitals. While juggling his clinical practice and his national consulting work, he also sat on The National Board of Medical examiners and was responsible for establishing standards for examination of clinical skills for licensure requirements. He was a busy man who had an abundance of energy and drive.
Gerry owed his passion and success to a good education, and with this focus he served on the Foothill De Anza Board for 12 years, committed to encouraging access to a higher education to those who wanted it. He was often stopped on the street, in the market, on the ski hill by someone who thanked him for inspiring him, encouraging her, or supporting their pursuit of their chosen endeavor.
However, Gerry did not limit his passion to his professional responsibilities. He taught himself to ski by reading books, practicing in the mirror and getting on skis at every opportunity. He eventually taught skiing, was certified as a National Ski Patrol for 27 years, and started the Doctor’s patrol at Alpine Meadows. He continued to ski up through his 89th birthday, always graceful yet always attacking the mountain. He played golf and tennis, hiked, fly fished, ran marathons, sailed, danced and played piano with the same fervor.
However, the accomplishment that he is most proud of is that of his family. He was an adoring and adored husband to his wife, Eleanore, of 73 years. He told his mother, the night he met “Elly” that he met the woman he was going to marry. They raised 5 successful daughters, 9 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren, each carries in them a bit of his drive and a bit of that twinkle in their eyes. So, although it is with deep sadness that a great man has passed, it is with honor that we can say that he touched so many lives. He will be deeply missed by his family, patients and friends. In addition to his wife, he is survived by five daughters; Bobbi Blake, Jann Besson, Amy Forte, Heidi Star and Tamar Besson; two sons-in-law Vincent Forte and Barry Star; nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Dr. Besson preferred there be no memorial service and suggested donations may be made to El Camino Hospital Foundation or Foothill DeAnza Community College Foundation.