John Wolfe, a transplanted Californian who arrived from the U.S. Army in 1974 to join the Cape Ann Medical Center practice and became a leading defender of Addison Gilbert Hospital, died suddenly Wednesday morning at his computer at his home in West Gloucester.
He was 70.
“We were at Fort Knox (in Kentucky) then, and he was open to exploring,” his widow Susannah recalled in a telephone interview. “It came to Gloucester and Santa Barbara.”
She said that Santa Barbara posed hurdles due to the energy crisis — its patient base needed to drive long distances — and Gloucester called.
An internist, Wolfe became chairman of the city’s Board of Health soon after settling in, and led a campaign to fluoridate the water. But he seemed most destined to forge and lead a fierce defense of AGH when the local hospital’s future seemed especially insecure; it was 2003, after the arrival of Stephen Laverty to become chief executive officer of Northeast Health System.
Northeast had “merged” with AGH in 1994, but began stripping services on Laverty’s watch, intending to build a regional medical center based at Beverly Hospital. The Cape Ann community, which had given generously to create a $30 million endowment plus an art collection that went into the care of the Northeast trustees, looked on with increasing anxiety.
The breadth and depth of the community resistance was reflected in a public meeting called by state Sen. Bruce Tarr in the City Hall auditorium on May 7, 2003, that was attended by more than 300 people — but not Laverty. In his place, he deployed AGH’s CEO. But Wolfe, speaking for his Cape Ann Medical Center colleagues who worked on a contract with Partners Health Care but were on the NHS medical staff, said Laverty was a man “we do not trust.”
A week later, 26 AGH physicians — including Wolfe, their leader — purchased an unprecedented full page ad in the Times and its sister paper in Beverly to issue a professional challenge to the trustees; a warning, really, against using the endowment to build Beverly Hospital at the expense of AGH.