Obituary: Gibson Buchanan / Physician devoted to children

April 15, 1920 - Feb. 2, 2013

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Gibson Buchanan, who devoted his life to caring for sick children, died Saturday. The longtime O'Hara resident was 92.

Dr. Buchanan, who grew up in the East End, was the son of a prominent attorney who gave his name to the firm Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney. He had just entered Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The Army gave him a deferment, and the war ended before he could be sent overseas, said his son, Thomas Buchanan of Fox Chapel.

There was some family expectation that he would become a surgeon, but he preferred to help sick children. After an internship at Mercy Hospital he did his residency at Babies and Children's Hospital in New York. He returned to Pittsburgh to open a practice when his mother died in 1951.

As part of their mourning, he and his father went on a six-month around-the-world voyage together. The experience, and the opportunity to spend extended time with his father, guided his response to another tragedy 25 years later.

On Feb. 2, 1952, he married Cathryn Grier, who had been a secretary at Babies and Children's Hospital. They started a family in Point Breeze while he practiced pediatrics in Shadyside. He later moved the practice to Aspinwall and the family to O'Hara.

"He made a lot of house calls. We would hear the phone ring at 2 a.m., and know he was heading out of the house. He was a good, caring physician," Thomas Buchanan said. "He would see all the kids from a family and then their kids when they grew up and married."

He was on staff at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. He also served for many years as an elder at East Liberty Presbyterian Church. He loved to sing, and was known to break into Scottish ballads at parties.

In his youth, he developed a fascination with the 17th-century painter Rembrandt, and he took his family on many European trips that included a visit to a museum that held his work.

In 1976, Cathryn Buchanan died. He took each of their four surviving children -- his namesake had died in infancy -- on a journey, much as his own grieving father had done with him. The destinations were keyed to the children's interests -- one went to Russia, another to China, another to Scandinavia.

"I was very interested in anthropology, so we went to Guatemala and Peru, to see the ruins," Mr. Buchanan said. "He was a good father who let each of us do our own thing."

Nine years later Dr. Buchanan married Alice Reed. Together they visited all of Pennsylvania's covered bridges.

He retired about 25 years ago, but continued helping at the Well Baby clinics of the Allegheny County Health Department. "They paid him a little but for it, but he was really doing it to give back," his son said.

He remained active, continuing to travel with Alice and to swim and fish at a longtime retreat in New Hampshire, well into his 80s.

Dr. Buchanan is survived by his wife, Alice of Oakmont; two daughters, Margaret Buchanan of West Hartford, Conn., and Cathryn Buchanan of Monroe, Wash.; two sons, David of Jamaica Plain, Mass.; and Thomas of Fox Chapel; and six grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned for April. Gifts may be made to The Pittsburgh Foundation Alice and Gibson Buchanan Fund, which supports local arts and social services.

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Ann Rodgers: or 412-263-1416.


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