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Del Mar doctor, philanthropist passes away

REGION — As past president of at least three local philanthropic organizations, G. Richard “Dick” Wheelock, M.D., left an indelible mark on North County, especially among the underserved and working poor in Del Mar and Solana Beach.

Through his efforts, college aid is available to Mexican-American high school seniors, children receive free dental care and the uninsured are provided health care at no cost.

Wheelock, a retired U.S. Navy World War II veteran, passed away peacefully in his sleep at his Del Mar home on Feb. 18. He was 87.

The son of Gilbert Harding and Myra Wheelock, he was born May 3, 1926, in Safford, Ariz. He attended the University of Arizona and earned his medical degree from Baylor University in 1953.

He married Mary Elizabeth McDaniel and the couple settled in Del Mar, where Wheelock was intent on establishing a medical practice. But that proved to be a “difficult undertaking,” according to former Del Mar Mayor Bill Arballo.

“The area was well served with M.D.s,” Arballo said. “Monty Woolley, who was active in the Jaycees (San Dieguito Junior Chamber of Commerce), brought him to a meeting and members, who were mostly vets, naturally made him their doc.

“Several were from Eden Gardens and he established a good business there,” Arballo added. “A caring person, Doc Wheelock often didn’t charge for his service even when it sometimes involved hospitalization.”

Also key to building his practice was the fact that the maximum age for Jaycees was 36. Arballo described the members as “young and virile and starting families.” He said Wheelock delivered even more babies for them than one of the area’s well-established doctors.

Wheelock also became known after establishing a matinee for harness racers. The event educated the public on the sport and gave owners and trainers an opportunity to time their horses, which were kept at the Del Mar Fairgrounds during the winter.

In addition to founding the Del Mar Medical Clinic, Wheelock served as a member and president of the Del Mar Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Mexican American Educational Guidance Association, which provides scholarships to Latino high school students in the San Dieguito Union High School District.

Wheelock and his wife traveled to Mexico with Mission Circle, a service group of the St. James and St. Leo Catholic Community that helps the poor in Tijuana, Mexico.

But getting equipment and supplies across the border was difficult, and Wheeler knew there were people closer to home who lacked medical care.

So after his retirement in 1991, Wheelock started St. Leo’s Medical Clinic, providing free care to the uninsured working poor in North County. A few years later, it was expanded to offer dental care for children.

Wheelock is survived by his wife of 60 years; children Michele Pitts, M’Liss Defrancesco, Theresa Sandefur and G. Richard Wheelock Jr.; sister, Marjorie Bryce; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A viewing will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. March 7 at El Camino Mortuary, 5600 Carroll Canyon Road in San Diego.

A service will be held at 10 a.m. on March 8 at St. James Catholic Church, 625 S. Nardo Ave. in Solana Beach. A celebration of life will follow at 2 p.m. at Tony’s Jacal, 621 Valley Ave., Solana Beach.

“Doc’s legacy is always caring for the poor and needy,” Arballo said. “A remarkable person.”