Sept. 20, 1920-March 9, 2018
Dr. Philip David Pallister passed away peacefully at the family home in the Boulder Valley March 9, 2018.
Born to George and Edith Pallister in Owatonna, Minnesota, Sept. 20, 1920, Phil was raised and received his early education in Rochester. Along with being a sterling scholar and Eagle Scout, Phil was inculcated with the values of hard work, straight talk and being a man of his word on the family’s extensive truck farm that helped with a little income and a lot of food during the Depression. He continued his education at the University of Minnesota and entered medical school under an accelerated program meant to help provide physicians for duty in World War II.
He met Blanche Willa Pallister in high school and they began dating when Phil was in college and were married the 13th of June 1942. In a quote from his autobiography, Phil stated, “My marriage to Willie is the most important thing in the world to me; she has been my true love, my best friend, my wife and mistress, my support, my all.”
Phil entered the Army in June of 1942 as a lieutenant in the Medical Corps, serving on medical posts throughout the war, and becoming a Captain and Post Surgeon at Camp McCoy, and ending his service in 1948. He served in separation centers, tuberculosis and medical wards and as Post Medical Inspector, all tasks that served to prepare him for a life in general practice.
Phil and Willie were interested in raising children, learning to fly fish, and pursuing Phil’s interest in children’s medicine and birth defects. Toward that end, in 1947 they explored a “magic circle of fishing” a 100-mile circle of trout streams centered in Montana. They discovered Boulder, with a trout stream running through town and the Boulder Valley, an institution for the mentally challenged, and endless space in which to raise a family. Phil became the only “physician and surgeon” in a thirty mile radius. They had found their promised land and grew their very large family and Phil’s career, a career that included treating all the ailments and injuries associated with the mines and the little towns of Basin, Wickes, Corbin, Gray Eagle and many others, the call-outs to automobile accidents on the primitive byways of the day, ranchers or their family members hurt or ill in all of the many ways that occur in the wilds of Montana, and always, the duties at the Montana State Training School and Hospital. Phil and Willie became very active members of the community. Phil served as Mayor of Boulder during two separate terms. One of his oft-mentioned favorite accomplishments was establishing both sewer and water systems for Boulder.
Phil became a pioneering advocate for the care of the most disadvantaged. When he arrived in Boulder the Training School was generally a “warehouse” for the mentally retarded and he oversaw the construction of a new hospital on the grounds, insisted on first class medical care for all the residents, pursuit of autopsies to understand causes of death in hopes of developing more effective future treatment of these disorders and diseases and insisted on humanizing care for all the residents. This led to an intense and pioneering interest in the study of human genetics, and ultimately the establishment of a laboratory at the now named Boulder River School and Hospital, and screening of newborns for certain disorders. Phil was unafraid to tackle bureaucrats and politicians to seek the best for his patients. Over years Doc and Willie welcomed many medical students that studied with him in Boulder, and geneticists and physicians from all over the world that shared his interest in understanding genetic causes of handicaps. Dr. Pallister is credited with the discovery and first description of many genetic disorders and is mentioned as a pioneering leader in the field, all from a tiny lab in a tiny town in Montana, driven by a burning curiosity and a need to provide better care for the most needy patients and their families. When he retired from Boulder River School, Phil worked through Shodair Children’s Hospital and continued clinics throughout Montana. He had retired and had been living on the family ranch for many years, but still consulting with colleagues on genetic issues and as late as 2017 speaking publicly on these issues and publishing peer reviewed papers.
He loved hunting and fishing and outdoor life teaching those skills to his children. Phil also became very interested in the anthropology of paleo-man in Montana and became expert in that area, publishing several papers on those subjects.
He was pre-deceased by his wife, Blanche Willa in November 2001, and two sons, Luke 1 and Jeremy, and is survived by sons Jeff (Anne), Greg (Darlene), Steve (Joan), Rick (Cynthia), Chris (Mika), Jon (Janet), Josh (Kim), Zach (Jean), Adam, Luke Star, Seth (Danielle), Amos, a beloved daughter, Andrea (Martin) and 78 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A celebration of Phil’s life will be held later in spring or summer.
Donations in his memory can be made to Shodair Children’s Hospital Foundation/Genetics Department, 2755 Colonial Drive, Helena, MT 59601, or to the Alzheimer’s Association on-line at https://www.alz.org.