Loved As A Pediatrician, Lover Of Nature – Hartford Courant
Lothar Candels was just at home treating a child for croup as he was hiking the fields near his house in Avon, catching bluefish in the Sound or carving delicate designs into ivory or a tree fungus.
He was a beloved pediatrician for thousands of families in the Farmington Valley, caring for children from birth on, occasionally into their 20s. They grew up but didn’t want to leave their baby doctor.
Dr. Lothar Richard Candels died of congestive heart failure Dec. 29th, early in the morning, about the time he often headed out for many an outdoor excursion. He was 90, and had lived in Avon since 1931.
“He never stopped living as fully and passionately as he could,” said his daughter, Lisa Candels.
Candels was born in Bonn, Germany, on June 20, 1925, and came to Hartford with his parents, Anthony and Martha Candels, when he was 3. His father worked as a cook at the Hartford Club, and interviewed several years later for a position as chef at Avon Old Farms School. To get to the interview with Theodate Pope Riddle, the founder of the school, he took a trolley to the end of the line in West Hartford and walked the rest of the way to Hillstead, in Farmington, where Riddle lived.
Riddle asked him how he would cook a certain dish. “In the European, English or French style?” he replied. “She was impressed,” said Lisa Candels, and Riddle offered Candels the job, though she said he needed to buy a car.
The Candels moved to Avon when Lothar was 7.
For Lothar Candels, living in the country as a child allowed him to roam the woods, exploring wildlife, plants and animals. The principal at the Tow Path School encouraged his love of nature, and Candels flourished. He especially enjoyed introducing younger children to the wonders he found during his expeditions.
He graduated from Avon Old Farms and attended Trinity College and then Fordham University, and had thoughts of becoming an artist. His father was adamantly opposed, though; artists were rarely self-supporting, and he wanted his son to have a trade, a profession.
Candels decided to go to medical school and attended the Long Island College of Medicine in Brooklyn, and returned to Connecticut to serve a residency in pediatrics at St. Francis Hospital.
His father built him an office in Avon in 1957 and he slowly developed a pediatrics practice, helped by the post-war baby boom. He later added an office in Canton.
He was somewhat unorthodox in his manner, for instance, showing up at St. Francis in a cowboy hat. Once he shot a squirrel that had bitten a child to find out if the animal was rabid. (It wasn’t and the child was spared painful tetanus shots.) Patients who could not pay in cash often bartered for services, offering a painting or fruit and vegetables in exchange for medical assistance.
“As a doctor, he never felt he knew enough and was humble about his abilities,” his daughter said. “He was always curious and always wanted to share his knowledge.”
Candels was down to earth in the laid-back style of Dr. Benjamin Spock, and was low key, especially in matters he considered less serious, such as when a panicked parent reported that a child had just drunk toilet water or holy water. He prescribed antibiotics sparingly, and thought that letting babies cry — for a bit — was good for their lungs. “It’s the way they get experience; it’s not the end of the world,” he would tell nervous parents.
There was a pond outside his office, and he would take children out to feed the fish to calm them down, and his office looked like the storeroom of a natural history museum, crammed with objects he had collected or received as gifts: pheasant feathers, deer antlers, arrowheads, bear skins, ostrich eggs. Children looked forward to their visits.
He had a delicate touch, and he could balance the head of a tiny baby on a few fingers in order to examine her. “His hands were diagnostic,” his daughter said.
He loved doing minor surgery on children, careful that the stitches wouldn’t leave scars. “He was an artist in his suturing skills” Lisa said.
He also cared deeply about his young patients. Once he sent a young boy to the hospital with Reyes syndrome after his parents had treated him with aspirin, before it was known to be dangerous for children. The child later died. “He was moved, shaken,” said Dr. Hema DeSilva, a St. Francis pediatrician. “You could see tears welling up.”
In 1951, Candels married Betty Hurley, whom he had met when the Fordham glee club had a joint concert with the glee club of Albertus Magnus College in New Haven. Candels was a romantic who wooed Hurley with sonnets and music he had written, and who never forgot the exact spot where they had met. They had six children, and had family dinners every night, where Candels would hold forth. (“He liked an audience, and would share stories,” his daughter said.) The Friday night menu usually consisted of fish he had caught himself.
Candels began the day by taking calls from parents from 7-8 a.m., while still in bed, and he also took phone calls during dinner, and would bring his children with him when he visited young patients in the hospital on weekends, often in his hunting or fishing clothes.
Candels took up the hobby of scrimshaw, carving delicate designs in whale teeth or ivory, which he made certain had been legally procured. He also used dental tools and a magnifying glass to carve living tree fungus, known as artists conk. He became known as an expert, lectured at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and had an exhibit of his work at the New Britain Museum of American Art. Many of the mourners at his wake wore jewelry that he had made.
As a hunter, he shot animals for food as much as for sport; he gave deer skins to Native Americans and brought the carcasses of dead animals back to the woods for vultures and other animals to eat.
“He sought out where they bred and lived,” his daughter said. “He would share any food he caught.”
He bred Irish setters, and won many ribbons; he also enjoyed photography and painting. On a typical day after he retired at 74, he rose at 4 a.m. to go turkey hunting, spent the afternoon cutting wood and clearing brush, and did scrimshaw in the evening.
“I’ve got a million things to do,” he told a reporter from The Courant in 2000. “There’s always something to stimulate the imagination.”