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'A very fine gentleman' passes on
Fredericksburg cardiologist played many roles; 'the community has lost a friend'

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Date published: 10/26/2012

BY ROBYN SIDERSKY

Dr. Robert Wheeler wore many hats in Fredericksburg--doctor, City Council member and preservationist.

Wheeler died Monday of complications from Parkinson's disease. He was 76.

Wheeler worked for Pratt Medical Center for 30 years as an internist and cardiologist. He retired from Pratt in 2006.

"Dr. Wheeler was a very fine gentleman that truly cared for all his patients," Robert Alexander, CEO of Pratt Medical Center, said in an interview Thursday.

Wheeler served on the City Council for one term, from 1986 until 1990. The Rev. Lawrence A. Davies was mayor when Wheeler was on the council.

"He was a very conscientious member of council," Davies said. "He was very deep and sensitive to the issues that came before the council."

Wheeler also served on the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Planning Commission.

Davies said he had a personal relationship with Wheeler because he was his cardiologist.

"I think one of the things a lot of people will remember, he made a lot of his rounds at the hospital at night when others had taken off," Davies said.

"He was going to see his patients after dark. It showed his commitment to those under his care."

Alexander echoed that.

"He was always working for his patients," he said.

Alexander came to Pratt in 2003, and overlapped with Wheeler for three years, before Wheeler retired.

"It wasn't just the individuals he served as a physician, but his commitment to make the community better place for us all to live in," Davies said.

"The community has lost a friend, really."

Wheeler was also known for his commitment to historic preservation.

He bought Lauck's Island in 1980 and insisted on preserving the property. It's in the Rappahannock River, downstream from where Embrey Dam once stood, and just upstream from Falmouth. The island, site of historic ruins, is 87 acres of trees, sand and rock.

Capt. John Smith, the English explorer, put it on his map of his travels in the Chesapeake Bay region.

"[Wheeler] felt deeply the need to protect this rare and fragile landscape, surrounded as it was by ever-increasing sprawl. He saw the island as a precious resource for the community to enjoy responsibly. He guarded it with the help of like-minded conservationists--most notably the Friends of the Rappahannock River," his obituary states.

Wheeler offered tours of the island with Friends of the Rappahannock once a year, if the weather cooperated.

Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said Wheeler "was always willing to take a stand and be ahead of the times."

She said he was interested in historic preservation when not many others were, unlike today.

Wheeler is survived by his wife of 40 years, Mary Ellen, two daughters and two granddaughters.

A memorial service will be held at St. George's Episcopal Church at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3.

Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413
Email: rsidersky@freelancestar.com