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Vancouver Funeral Chapel

110 East 12Th Street, Vancouver, WA

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, was active in a barbershop quartet, The Forceps Four Barbershop Quartet, and The Sigmoid Six Band. He composed and copyrighted “The Oregon Fight Song” that was often sung in tandem with “Mighty Oregon” for campus chorus events.

John graduated from UO Medical School in 1957, did an internship in Coral Gables, Florida, and spent three years as a Captain heading the ENT Department at Vandenberg AFB. He 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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Lisa Michelle Norborg

August 23, 2019


When I heard Dr.Epley had passed, I immediately contacted a former patient of his and friend of mine, Kathe Houlberg of Denmark. Kathe wrote the following and asked that it be shared:

“Dr. Epley saved my life. He saved me from committing suicide. I could not have gone on living as I was — miserable, with no relief for my symptoms of dizziness and imbalance. Only a single Danish doctor even believed me. All the others said ‘it was all in my head’ or that it was just because of my age. But, Dr. Epley understood. He believed me. …”

For those of us who had the honor of working with Dr. Epley, these types of comments were not at all uncommon. Again and again we heard from patients how Dr. Epley had saved them, how he was the only one who had believed them, the only one who had listened to them. In fact, Dr. Epley himself once told me that probably 80% of the success of his practice had come from listening to the patient.
Indeed Dr. Epley seemed to have a gift of hearing and seeing what others did not. Though he insisted on having gold standard testing in his practice and he felt these tests were important, they were just a starting point for him. When standard testing and treatment offered no obvious answers for his patients, Dr. Epley didn’t just accept the usual conclusions that nothing could be done, or that the symptoms were psychosomatic, or, worse, that the patient was simply malingering. Dr. Epley listened to his patients and used his deep medical knowledge and creative, problem-solving mind to try and imagine what might be causing the patient’s symptoms and findings, and how he might prove that empirically and treat for it practically.
This is what brought him to make his great discoveries regarding BPPV, but also many other testing, treatment and even surgical discoveries in his practice. The full loss of this special life — both as a doctor and to his family and friends — can not be measured.

With great love ,
Lisa Norborg

Denise Johnson

August 8, 2019

My Uncle John was the most sweetest and patient Uncle in my life. I always had such great times with him and was able to even work at his medical office for a short time when I was visiting in Portland so I got to see first hand how well he treated his patients and staff. Many people respected him and thought of him as a genius. I saw him as a humbled loving person always figuring things out in his own way and I would say that's a true genius. He and Norma came to my wedding and made it even more special that day. He taught us how to play fun card games when we were young kids. I miss you Uncle John but I expect to see you up there in Heaven and I'm sure there's even more glorious music there now with you. Also my uncle was a wonderful father to Cathy and Cynthia and his love for them was apparent and awesome.

Patrizia Montemurro

August 7, 2019

I have had the pleasure and privilege to meet and share a short but amazing time with Dr John M Epley, I also had the opportunity to know his beautiful and classy wife, Norma, and his lovely daughter Cathy. For a whole week, from the morning to the evening I have been listening and watching Dr Epley and my husband working and speaking about BPPV and cupola. I still remember every single moment. Dr Epley and his wife took us to Mount Hood, they told us about the time they used to go there, about their beloved daughter Cinthia and making us feel to be part of their family. I cannot be with Cathy today, but my heart is with her to say " good bye" to her great father.

Paul Evans

August 6, 2019

Dr. Epley was a pioneer in medical therapy for vertigo. The “Epley Maneuver” for benign positional vertigo patients has been taught to physicians for decades and is still in use today to treat patients suffering from this condition. His achievements will endure long after his passing, helping patients for many years to come. While I was not privileged to meet him, his teachings are standard instruction in medical schools around the world. We are thankful for his lifelong contributions.
Paul Evans DO, LL.D(hon), FACOFP, Salem, OR,
Founding Dean, Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine,
Founding Dean, Georgia Campus Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Ellen Christensen

August 6, 2019

I was a patient of Dr Epley and would like to share that I feel I owe my life to him. His treatment for my case, which was complicated, meant my hearing was saved. During my care I received a call that he had discussed with a colleague, on a flight return ing from a conference, and he believed he had determined a procedure. He performed the surgery and I was given over 20 years of no vertigo or loss of hearing. He is my hero and I will forever thank God for him. My prayers for his family . I am unable to attend his service, but will be there in my heart. God bless you!

Ted Carrick

August 4, 2019

Celebration of the life of a great man; a person that changed the world for the better.

Ted Carrick

Jon F. Peters, Ph.D.

August 4, 2019

I came to know John through mutual academic colleagues as a central figure in the advancement of the diagnosis and management of patients with balance issues, particularly those related to the vestibular system. In that regard, John was without a doubt one of the most patient centric physicians I have known. The field has lost a pioneer and the world a scholar and a gentlemen.

Jon F. Peters, Ph.D.

Giacinto Asprella Libonati

August 4, 2019

John's death is very painful for me,
with him I shared the common passion of scientific research in the field of Vestibology, discovering that he had the same mental openness and desire for knowledge towards the world of medicine to which he applied his knowledge and experience in the field of physics.
With John I spent beautiful and intense days thinking together about new techniques and new theories for paroxysmal positional vertigo and repositioning of the canaliths, in him I found first a master, more properly called “Maestro” in Italy, and then a sincere friend moved by the common intent to enrich scientific knowledge for the good of our patients.
I will miss his mind and his love very much

John MOLENAAR

August 3, 2019

I am sorry to hear of John's passing, Its s never easy to say farewell to a loved one, but it is really easy to remember the many contributions that he made to medical science, to his community, to the lives of so many. The first time I walked into the Portland Otologic Clinic(POC) I felt as if I were doing something important--that IF I were to be hired as an audiologist to aid Dr. Epley in his research in the rotary chair, I would then truly be making a difference. Jumping forward 1 year turned into 2 then 3. I enjoyed working with Dr. Epley. He was kind and listened to the ideas and opinions of others and he was sincere in his desire to help these chronically dizzy people. His integrity and doggedness indeed paid off. I am brought tears by my memories of how much pleasure he took in a successful result--when someone who came in to the Clinic in a wheel chair walked out with a giant smile on their face. That is my memory that I wanted to share-- John smiled often because it gave him pleasure to help his patients. He was a kind and generous employer and a genius medical doctor among the many other things he did in his life. He will be missed.

JOHN MOLENAAR Clinical Audiologist 2007-2009

FROM THE FAMILY

John, age 15, 1945ish

FROM THE FAMILY

John, age 15, 1945ish

FROM THE FAMILY

Christmas 1947
Mac, June, John, Alix, Malcolm

FROM THE FAMILY

John and Norma
College era

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

FROM THE FAMILY

John fire spotting on his lookout

FROM THE FAMILY

U of O Med School
Sigmoid Six