OBITUARY

John McNaughton Epley M.D.

February 8, 1930July 30, 2019
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John M. Epley MD, a long time resident of the Portland-Vancouver area, passed away at the age of 89 on July 30, 2019.

Born in 1930 in Eugene, Oregon to Mac and Jane Epley, John grew up in Klamath Falls where the entire family worked at the town’s Herald and News newspaper at one time or another. With his father eventually running the paper, he got a close up view of history and politics. A memory that stuck with him was seeing the reactions of people to front page news of the attack at Pearl Harbor as he delivered newspapers on Dec 8, 1941. He tagged along with his dad to presidential nominating conventions and other history-making events.

John attended Klamath Union High School where he graduated third in his class in 1948. There he developed his life-long love of music, singing and playing both the coronet and piano. He arranged the music for the school’s fight song and was quarterback of his football team. A teammate who became a high school football coach said in 2007 that Epley was one of the “smartest and toughest players he had ever seen”.

He loved the outdoors and spent about a decade working summers for the forest service. In high school, he built forest service roads and served as a tour guide at the Lava Beds National Monument in northern California, telling stories to tourists about the Indian Wars and Captain Jack. While attending UO Medical School, he spent summers living on a U.S. Forest Service lookout on Walker Mountain. John spotted fires, then jumped in his car and raced down miles of steep dirt roads with his firefighting gear to fight them. A forest ranger remarked in a job review “Johnny is a fine lad who will go far”.

At the University of Oregon, John met the pretty Norma See and married her in 1954. He wrote for The Emerald newspaper and was active in a barbershop quartet. He composed and copyrighted “The Oregon Fight Song” that was often sung in tandem with “Mighty Oregon” for campus chorus events.

John Attended UO Medical School where besides studying medicine, he continued to be involved in music with the Fourcep Four Barbershop Quartet and the Sigmoid Six Band. He graduated in 1957, followed by his internship in Coral Gables, Florida. Then he spent three years as a Captain heading the ENT Department at Vandenberg AFB and completed a residency at Stanford Medical School and a year of original research on the first multichannel cochlear implant.

His daughters Cathy and Cynthia were born in 1958 and 1961. He returned to Portland in 1965 and worked in private practice, focusing on the ear (Neurotology) exclusively since 1972. The family settled into the Mt. Tabor area where they lived for more than 40 years. The Fourth of July parties at the Epley’s became a neighborhood event because of John’s handmade fireworks and hot air balloons. He would disappear with his daughters in the basement for several days, concocting a hot air balloon and a finale firework that grew taller every year.

John was responsible for many innovative surgical techniques and considered one of the top innovators and surgeons in his field. Around 1979 he risked his career with his original Particle Theory for Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), upending the accepted theory for a common and debilitating medical problem. He taught his colleagues how to recognize BPPV, and how to treat it without surgery. John Epley’s work helped doctors to treat patients they could not help before. And his work has helped tens of millions of patients around the world.

John Kane MD, a medical school classmate, said John was known as “a beacon for many of us in medical school. He interacted personally with every patient he ever saw. Most doctors are mechanical, ‘see this-do that…and not insightful like John. He was a rare guy and a rare doctor.”

For patients, John was their advocate when they came to him with their lives in shambles and everyone around them, even family, thought there was nothing physically wrong with them. When insurance companies and worker’s compensation claimed patients were crazy or malingering, not dizzy, he proved them wrong. His contribution to medicine is as much about a paradigm shift of taking the dizzy patient seriously as it is about his medical discoveries. He was the ultimate patient advocate and a man of unusual compassion.

In 2009 at age 79, he retired after a severe stroke that left him unable to communicate as well as other severe disabilities. John leaves behind his daughter Cathy, brother Malcolm Epley and sister Alix Traver and their families as well as his brother-in-law Don See and sister-in-law Karan See and their families. His daughter Cynthia died in a car accident in 1981 and Norma passed away in December of 2017.

Interment is private at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. A memorial will be held on August 7 at 1:30 at the Multnomah Athletic Club. For more details go to www.vancouverfuneralchapel.net

Services

  • Memorial Service

    Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Memories

John McNaughton Epley M.D.

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Cameo Gonzalez

January 26, 2020

In 2002 my sister Trina and I were in a car accident. Shortly afterward, my sister developed debilitating vertigo that left her unable to even walk at times. My mom did research and discovered that not only did Dr. Epley exist but was a mere 30 minutes away. I would go with Trina to her appointments and we agreed that Dr. Epley appeared to be a mad scientist with his collection of contraptions but he really, he was a genius. After two surgeries, Trina was fixed. We will be forever grateful to Dr. Epley and his unconventional yet ground breaking ways.

SUSAN KING

October 17, 2019

Though I never met, or ever even KNEW Dr. Epley, I was very lucky to have been treated by a young physical therapy grad who noticed my dizziness in about 2006 . He was treating me for a hand injury that was secondary to the concussion I suffered after hitting my head against the ground. He briefly explained what he thought was the cause of my vertigo - the "little marbles" in my inner ears had been disturbed by the impact and that affected my balance and stability. He then took the through "the procedure" and sent me home with a printed sheet of instructions for my husband and me to perform should the vertigo return. He said it sometimes took a couple of tries. We did use it twice more in the following days and I have never had another episode. I was CURED BY MAGIC! I never knew the name of the inventor, but for years I have told people far and wide about my experience when they shared that they too, were dizzy. Today an article came across my computer on, of all things, Facebook. Such a remarkable man. My heartfelt condolences to Cathy and the Epley family. How sad for the loss of him and that he had such a struggle to gain acceptance for his maneuver; how lucky the family who had the ringside seat to his life and lessons of perseverance and imagination. And that, Cathy, is where you gained your ability to complete your mission to help him earn his place in history. And too, a place in my heart and in the lives of the many whom he has helped. God bless you all and Godspeed Dr. Epley.

Letters Letters

August 25, 2019


I felt privileged to be part of the PC staff, to assist Dr. Epley with evaluating and treating his patients and growing in knowledge under his teaching and explanations. I will treasure the memories of this dear man all my life.- Bernie Payne

Memories about Dr. E: mechanical puzzles, having to hide them. Usually he would do them in 20 minutes where we would take hours, sometimes days. Playing chess with my son. His steady hands when placing the "patch" over the eardrum membranes. No signature.

It has been an honor to be a part of the POC family. God bless you and give you comfort. Linda and Howard Dupree

I remember my first high school formal I was with John- a great memory as freshman at KUNS. John has been a friend since junior high at Fremont in Klamath Falls, I treasure the memories. My husband played football with John for the Mighty Pelicans. He too has special memories of John. - Dorothy Cagill Zarasinski and Don Zarasinksi

The service was meaningful, hearing from your family, the office, seeing wonderful slides helped all of us know new things about John's life. When Gene and I were in Poland volunteering, I became friends with another volunteer who told me she was going to have a cochlear implant. I began to tell he about John, and she said "oh yes he is directing my doctor." He home is in Michigan! Let's stay in touch. Love Evie Brim

Letters

August 25, 2019

My brother is an ER doctor in Boston. When I asked him if he ever heard of the Epley maneuver. He said, "of course, they teach it in med school. You met the guy He is a real person?" He went on to add that they use it in the ER whenever someone does in with vertigo. "it's like a miracle" he said. "People go from being miserable to instant relief." It was a privilege to have known Dr. Epley. He was an extraordinary man. Chase Brand.

John always loved happy-face pancakes. He was always appreciative. He will break missed and remembered. I am thankful to have known and worked for John and Norma. Eva

John is a memorable man. The glint in his eye, a knowing glance, - a wry comment. I enjoyed him at our dinners with Marie, Dennis and Elizabeth, whether at a Chinese restaurant, at our home or chance meetings. Dennis's favorite story was when Norma talked about sunbathing on a fire watch tower where no one could see them...hundreds of acres of forest. At that point in their lives they were minimalists. Those stories at dinner were alway delightful. - Love Dennis and Elizabeth Hartman

Shortly after John finished medical school, I was a senior in college. We had a conversation about human physiology, and John said "hey, you should go to medical school." three yers later I was enrolled in the same medical school, UO Medical school, class of 60.- Don See (brother in law)

Things I remember: the playful side, the naughty winkle in his eyes, his ability to listen wholeheartedly than do exactly what he wanted! I remember the time I could not find my glasses only to find Dr. Epley wearing them. Then there is the time I convinced him to le t me clean out his storage closet, 30 plus years of equipment, a museum for sure. Not sure he ever got over it. Dr. E was a sweet, funny, brilliant...yet frustrating man. I am homered to have been with him at POC. Joy Fitzpatrick

Letters

August 25, 2019

I worked for Dr. Epley from 1998-2002. It was at his practice that I began my interest in vestibular testing. Most audiologists don't care for it, but I loved it. I remember him eating a can of peas in the break room, right out of the can! And I remember him at conferences and how people would flock to him like a rock star, which, to me, he was. I will always be grateful to him for his mentorship and his knowledge. he was an amazing man and will be greatly missed. Greg Borgmeyer, Audiologist

Uncle, Uncle John, Just a story I thought I would share: When I was five years old, I got hit in the face with a baseball. it chipped my tooth and my dad thought I broke my nose. Dad brought me to your office to see if it was okay when you quickly realized it was fine. Your calm demeanor and kindness while I was in pain is something I will always remember even more than the ride you gave me in the Epley Maneuver Machine. Love, MacIan

Your father took me back to his workshop that reminded me of the mad scientist- full of tools and models, etc. He was so excited about his projects and went through a number of them he was working on. He was a brilliant man who enjoyed teaching and patient care- Mary Aebi

Snow memories - we were at POC, Dr. Epley standing in the kitchen, looking out the window. A soft snow was falling He softly said, "I remember I used to go skiing with the girls. Norma didn't like that I took the girls out of school to go to the mountain but we had a lot of fun." The MA called to him that he had patients waiting. But he continued to look out the window. He answered, "no I want to watch the snow for awhile," as a tear came down his cheek. it was very sweet and touching. This was John Epley the man, not the doctor.- Sarah Movius Schurr

Letters

August 25, 2019

We skied many weekends together, Dr. Epley, my mom, Cathy, Cynthia, Julia, Tom and I, leaving my dad and Mrs. Epley at home. Dr. Epley was always prepared to carry a rope in case he had to get off the lift if it stopped. It makes me think of all the cool inventions he did. He and Cynthia always did interesting inventive fireworks. He will be missed- a very close family friend, Cammie Brim

Dr. Epley was a kind and gentle man, who I knew primarily as the father of our childhood friends, Cynthia and Cathy. We spent many summers, holidays and Christmas with their family. Dr. Epley was always game to jump in the station wagon with my mom and all the Brim kids, cathy and Cynthia and go skiing. So much fun! And we also spent Christmases and 4th of July's with the Epley family. On the 4th, Dr. Epley loved to regale the neighborhood kids with his firework inventions. Some were spectacular and others were duds! But most fun was watching Dr. Epley roll them out and see if they would work. For years we also shared Christmas dinner with the Epley's. Midway through dinner, he would pull out a pair of Blazer tickets and see who would want to go. That was a treat and he loved sharing his tickets with the neighborhood teenagers. We will miss Dr. Epley. Hugs to you, Cathy XOXO Julia Brim

I first met John in 1970 at a workshop. I tested audiology patients for him in the 70-s and from 1986 to 1993 we were Providence Hospital's Cochlear Implant team. We were a great team together! Our individual practices over time did not allow for a close relationship, however, my admiration and friendship remains as strong as ever. With Love and thanks to my friend John. Al Hicks

It was always enjoyable to work with Dr. Epley when we were together at Vesticon. He did much good work and made major contributions to the field. he will be long remembered for many things. Jon Birck

Letters

August 25, 2019

Cathy- I can not express how thankful I am for your faith in me to help guide your dad through some of the toughest of days. I wouldn't trade them for anything. Truly thankful for you letting me in. John, I'll always cherish the time we spent together. I'll miss you my friend. Much love, Trevor Thomas

Dr. Epley had a t-shirt in the break room saying "Dizzy, not Crazy." He was always kind and listened well to his patients and staff. Lynda Fitzpatrick.

I worked for Dr. Epley for seven years. They were good years because he was so kind, patient and compassionate. He was for real! I am so glad I had the opportunity to work with him. He will be missed. Shirley Goley

Dr. Epley's love of life and all it had to offer was so evident by his many interests in music, flying model airplanes and not the least...helping people in need without regard for their status. He was a gentle and non-judgmental person who will be missed but not forgotten. Evan Goley

I was honored to work with John and Cathy at Vesticon, helping to create a story about what they wanted to accomplish. I remember his brilliance, strong opinions, and commitment to get it right. Dave Underhill

As already recounted, the 4th of July will never live up to the celebrations the Epley's had the neighborhood. Both your father's fireworks and your mother's hospitality stand out. The entire tub of Baskin and Robbin Jamoca Almond Fudge was incredible to me as we saw few indulgences like that! Hearing your dad was so cheap surprises me because I thought of him as a generous person. I guess they aren't mutually exclusive. it seems he would do anything to make you and your mom happy. A memory of your mom- I so admired he rose garden and remember her out there pruning and looking so glamorous. Elizabeth Brim Snodgrass

Letters

August 25, 2019

I want to express my deep appreciation to Dr. Epley. I am also an ENT surgeon (1999 retired). I began solo practice e in Milaukie in 1970. I had dizzy patients, long hours, nights and weekends. I had a need to connect and share and learn what other ENTs were doing. In 1972 I was asked to join a study group, about eight of us in solo pracxrtice. John volunteered to take call for me, days weekends, even a week. He has my great admiration and respect not only for what he did for me, my practice, my family, my sanity, as a doctor and a remarkable human being, smart, sincere, generous with his time and finally, a role model, especially the science of medicine and the solutions, not the burdens of it. God Bless you -Fredrick Cameron.

We had a lot of nice times working for the Epley family at Tidewater. Nice family. We will never forget the time we spent together, going to the movies and dinner and just hanging out with John. Loved listening to him play the piano and other instruments he loved to play. It was a beautiful service, Love always- Paula Scholtes

Although I met John after his stroke, I still got to see his great personality. We were always playing chess and he was very good. I only beat him the first game and then after that it was days of long games. I consider myself lucky to have been his caretaker I wish I could have had more time with him. I remember sneaking to Burgerville for a shake and fish and chips. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet and get to know your father Cathy. -Patrick Scholtes

A memorable service. For several years, John and I gave a course at the annual conference for the American Academy of Otolaryngology. Great memories. -David S. Lilly

Letters

August 25, 2019

Dick and I are holding you in our hearts during this painful time. Your father was a very special friend to us, his warmth, his gentleness and his smile were always welcome. Love always, Patt and Dick Napp

Your father was an inspiration to many! My sincere condolences.
Linda Fitzpatrick and family.

Many Fond and Loving Memories- POC Clinic

Fathers are truly special people aren't they? I so admire your years of devotion to caring for your parents, and I want you to know I haver an inkling of what you are going through. I'll keep you in my thoughts during this difficult time- Rebecca

I met John and Norma in later life when they bought their condo at Tidewater Cove. He was a gracious man and a real gentleman. I remember a piano concert at their home where the pianist at the end of the performance said "Dr. Epley saved my life with his famous procedure." - Paul Schwabe

Cathy- Your dad was a gem. Whether as our uncle, uncle-in-law, or a great uncle or as a very special doctor caring for one of us in his unique capacity - he truly touched the Gonroski branch of the Epley Family. - Dave, Janet and family

I met John in the later days of his life when I played music twice a month at Guardian Angels One. As I would play, he would emrge from his room smiling, sometimes dancing. he would conduct with his arms. I could tell he enjoyed life and music. it was an honor to have John as one of my regular listeners and his absence will be felt every time I play "I left My Heart in San Francisco."

Messages

August 25, 2019

Lisa K. Fox Dearest Cathy, I am so sorry and saddened to just get this news! Your loving care for him and your mom was extraordinary-as only an Epley can be. I was just talking to my elderly parents last night telling them that working for him was hands down the best job of my life. I was so honored to work with him as his assistant and loved how absolutely boyish and impish he could be! His sense of humor was almost as big as his genius. Holding you close in my heart and prayers, I'm here if you need anything please don't hesitate to PM me

Beth Whitesel Opazo My condolences on the loss of your father, Cathy.

Sally Russell You and your Dad had such a special connection, Cathy. Hugs and love to you.

Jerry Hansen Cathy, I’m so sorry for your loss.

Rankin Shipley I’m so sorry Cathy. What a beautiful bond you had ~ my thoughts and prayers to you ~

Mark von Bergen He was a tremendous person who made a significant contribution to medicine. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Cathy. - Mark

TomLois Rogers -Cathy Epley, we're so sorry to hear! How glad we are to have known him! God's peace be with you!

Kim Esmay Taylor- I am so sorry to hear about your Dad. You both were so close.

Mary Mikel Delacy- Your father was an extraordinary man. He is a legend in the medical field. I hope he is recognized for all he has done to make so many lives better. Many individuals are living a better life because of Dr. Epley.

Susan Trask- Sending love to you...cherish the memories!

Jan Renfro- Sending hugs your way

David Sheppard- So very sorry Cathy. He was such a fine man.

Richard Gans- Hi Cathy. Please accept our deepest condolences- we celebrate John’s life and his wonderful contributions as a clinician and scientist but most importantly as simply a wonderful human being.

Stephanie Sampson sorry for your loss!

FROM THE FAMILY

John, age 15, 1945ish

FROM THE FAMILY

Christmas 1947
Mac, Jane, John, Alix, Malcolm

FROM THE FAMILY

John and Norma, newlyweds, 1954

FROM THE FAMILY

Dashing college man

FROM THE FAMILY

College
U of O 1948-1953

FROM THE FAMILY

Wedding 1954

FROM THE FAMILY

Walker Mountain Lookout 1953-1957

FROM THE FAMILY

Walker Mountain Lookout, musical jam. John is in the middle playing the coronet

FROM THE FAMILY

John fire spotting on his lookout in the Deschutes National Forest

FROM THE FAMILY

U of O Med School
Sigmoid Six

Learn more about the Epley name

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