Obituary: Physician, teacher Eugene Ott served the poor

  • Article by: PAMELA MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 28, 2012 - 8:44 PM

Dr. Eugene Ott

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Dr. Eugene Ott, who during and after a distinguished medical career gave generously of his time and talents to help the poor from Minneapolis' Phillips neighborhood to the slums of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, died of natural causes Jan. 12 at his home in Edina. He was 82.

Ott was born in 1929 in Milwaukee and grew up in Minneapolis, where he graduated from Washburn High School. His son, Kevin Ott of Plymouth, said his father was born with Erb's palsy, a birth defect "that didn't hold him back one bit" and that in fact may have helped heighten his sensitivity toward the less fortunate.

He graduated from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul and the University of Minnesota Medical School. In 1955, he married Mary Lou Mulcahey, whom he had met on a blind date. They would have 11 children, all of whom survive him.

For the first 22 years of his career, Ott ran a private family practice in Edina. In 1977, he turned his focus to teaching as an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, carrying out that role in conjunction with the Department of Family Medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. He retired from that role in 1997, and in 1998 stepped down from his final job as medical director of the Metropolitan Health Plan. But he would remain active, expanding his already extensive volunteer work.

Ott was drawn to work that served the poor, not just locally, but globally, his family said. "He picked areas that didn't have access to health care or where doctors didn't have teaching and tools," said his son Kevin Ott of Plymouth.

One such place was Haiti, where he traveled in the 1990s and early 2000s to work and teach. Other destinations included Cuba, Iraq and Mexico, where he not only worked to improve medical care, but also built houses and medical facilities, Kevin said. "My father loved to work with his hands, whether it was with his patients or at his cabin in northwestern Wisconsin or helping build homes in Mexico," he said. Around 2000, Ott also helped establish an AIDS clinic in South Africa.

In addition to his desire to help others, Ott was driven by curiosity about the world, said his daughter Betsy Dunsworth of St. Louis Park. "Education was a big thing with him, and not just traditional education," she said. "His life was a continuous quest for knowledge."

Locally, Ott worked or volunteered in many programs to help low-income Minnesotans. He founded the Success by 6 program in Minneapolis' Phillips and Powderhorn neighborhoods, which used a culturally sensitive outreach to work with families to improve infant health.

He and Mary Lou, devout Catholics who attended St. Joan of Arc Church in Minneapolis, were active in the social justice movement and friends with such activists as the late Marv Davidov.

"Dad was a very welcoming person with a calm presence," Dunsworth said. "He listened very well and always tried to be that person who can communicate with all groups -- a bridge-builder, and a gentle leader and teacher."

In his spare time, Ott loved woodworking and playing golf, patiently teaching his grandchildren that sport even as he ruthlessly competed with his children, Dunsworth said.

In addition to his wife of 57 years, Mary Lou; son Kevin and daughter Betsy, Ott is survived by six other sons, Chuck of Minneapolis, Terry of Norfolk, Va., Tim of Edina, Michael of Bloomington, Dennis of St. Paul and Christopher of Edina; three other daughters, Missy Janssen of Bloomington, Kathleen Smith of Naples, Fla., and Ann Morissey Marlatt of Seeley Lake, Mont.; two brothers, Bill of Bloomington and Dan of Madison, Wis.; 19 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Services have been held.

Pamela Miller • 612-673-4290

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