PLANT CITY Dr. Alex Sanchez, a physician who for years made house calls and delivered hundreds of babies, has died at age 92.
His medical career and military service took him all over the globe but he spent his final years in Plant City, where he grew up.
"He was a wonderful man," longtime Plant City neighbor Betty Jo Vernon said. "He was kind and gentle and authoritative. He was very straightforward."
Sanchez died May 17 - on his 92nd birthday - at a Brandon retirement center.
He loved the practice of medicine and for years offered house calls, his son Paul said. He never expected to get rich, setting his prices low and offering care to the needy.
"He certainly loved people and loved helping people, whether he got paid or not," he said. "He had many patients who couldn't pay and he never charged them a cent."
A memorial Mass for Sanchez will be celebrated June 8 at St. Clement Catholic Church, 1104 N. Alexander St., where he was a member.
He was the son of a Plant City doctor, Butler Hall Sanchez and his wife Jeanette Eugenia. He distinguished himself early by earning Eagle Scout when he was just 14, Paul said.
Sanchez volunteered for the Florida Air National Guard after graduating from Plant City High School in the late 1930s. During World War II, he served as a B-26 bomber pilot instructor with the Army Air Corps before seeing combat in China and Burma as a pilot of a B-25 bomber and C-47 cargo plane.
He met and married Ruth Rowland, a stewardess for Delta, in the waning months of the war and took a job as a pilot with TWA during peacetime.
But he had an urge to follow in his dad's footsteps and practice medicine, and quit the airline to obtain his degree from Emory School of Medicine, graduating with honors in 1953. He returned to Plant City to practice after an internship with the Navy.
He had a downtown office of his own for a while before establishing a practice with Dr. Clark Weeks near South Florida Baptist Hospital.
Paul Sanchez said his father helped establish the coronary unit at the hospital and he delivered more than 600 babies.
Betty Jo Vernon said Sanchez saved many lives during his medical career, including that of her son Chris. Vernon said she and her husband Billy were traveling out of the country when Chris, then a teenager, was hit with appendicitis.
Sanchez went the Vernon home when he heard the boy was in distress, diagnosed the problem and then insisted on surgery even though the Vernons were not there to give their consent.
"I'm sure he wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Dr. Sanchez. He saved his life. I think he probably saved thousands of lives," Vernon said.
Sanchez closed his Plant City practice in 1979 to rejoin the Army, serving as a lieutenant colonel at medical hospitals, and becoming a flight surgeon. Along the way, he learned to fly a helicopter, his son said.
He left the Army in 1985 and served as medical director for Florida Progress utility company for five years. He wrapped up his medical career at the Citrus County health department, retiring in 1995.
He moved back to Plant City in 2004, shortly before Ruth died after 60 years of marriage.
Sanchez was also preceded in death by brother Butler, his sister Eugenia Ganas, daughter Kathleen and grandson, Rion.
He is survived by son, Alex, daughter-in-law, Linda of Mooresville, N.C.; son, Robert, daughter-in-law, Lynn of Easton, Md.; son, Eugene, daughter-in-law, Donna of Brandon; son, John of San Mateo, Calif.; son Paul, of Memphis, Tenn.; and daughter, Mary Wilson and son-in-law, Steve of Easton, Md.; 13 grandchildren, three great-grandsons and a great-granddaughter.
Wells Memorial and Event Center, Plant City, is in charge of arrangements.