James L. Fife ’51 died on June 16, 2019, in Brunswick, Maine.
(The following was published by The Portland Press Herald on June 26, 2019)
Dr. James Lemuel Fife died peacefully at home on Father’s Day, June 16, 2019 surrounded by family.
Jimmy, as his family called him, was born on Sept. 15, 1929, in Boston, Mass. He was the youngest of three. Older brother, Walter, would not let Jimmy join in hockey games with his friends, so at age 13 Jimmy saved the money from his paper route and for $5 bought his first pair of hockey skates, used, from a neighbor. He taught himself to skate and went on to be a star hockey player for Arlington High School. After Arlington won the New England Championships, Jimmy was offered an athletic scholarship to attend Bowdoin College.
In college, Jim was an honors student, a three sport varsity athlete, a James Bowdoin Scholar and President of the Class of 1951. He traveled home to Boston on snowy weekends to play with the Arlington Arcadians and with them, won the 1949 National Junior U.S. Hockey Championship.
But probably his proudest achievement, and something he steadfastly maintained until the end, was that he was one of the all-time highest scorers, per games played , in a single Bowdoin hockey season. In the 11 games of his junior year, 1949-50, Jim served as the Bowdoin hockey captain and scored 33 points, including goals and assists.
This was also a time when Bowdoin changed the rules for varsity athletes, mandating that a player could only play on a varsity team for 3 years, and so during his senior year, Jim played for the Bates Manufacturing Company Hockey team in Lewiston. As his longtime friend and mentor Dr. Daniel Hanley recounted at Jim’s retirement party in the 1990s, Jim scored a hat trick against Bowdoin that year. It was this Bates team which won the National U.S. Senior American Hockey Association Championship in 1950 and was then sent to Europe to represent the United States in the World Championship Tournament.
Jim had met Bowdoin’s physician, Dr. Hanley, when he developed appendicitis his sophomore year. And once he entered the infirmary, he never left. Being somewhat shy, he had not joined a fraternity. The infirmary provided him with a quiet and inexpensive board more similar to that of his humble background. Majoring in Chemistry, his time living there also sparked his interest in a medical career.
So when Jim considered playing for the Boston Bruins in his senior year, after, quite embarrassingly, splaying onto the Boston Arena ice with his masking tape blade guards still on, the recruiter asked him what he would do if he didn’t play professional hockey. Jim said that he had been accepted to Harvard Medical School, and the rest, as they say, is history. Jim graduated from the Harvard Medical School class of 1955, and then served two years in Germany as a U.S. Army captain, operating in orthopedics. But not before going to look at his mandatory chest x-ray, under the guise of being sure it was ok, but really to catch a glimpse of the pretty x-ray technician, Gloria. He borrowed a friend’s convertible to make a good first date impression, and six months later, on April 9, 1955, he and Gloria were married. After the army, Jim commenced a general surgery residency with Harvard’s coveted Fifth Surgical Service at Boston City Hospital.
In 1961, after Jim’s residency and the birth of their four daughters, he and Gloria moved to Brunswick, Maine, to the town where he had gone to college and which seemed like a nice place to raise their young family. He began a general surgery practice from which he retired after a career of over 30 years. Operating at the Regional Memorial Hospital, he served on its committees and as the Chief of Staff.
In his spare time, Jim enjoyed working outdoors, gardening and caring for his home and land, playing tennis with family and friends, spending 10 years building an impressive cobblestone circular driveway and stonewall, attending and acting as physician for Bowdoin sporting events, helping his daughters with their homework, and of course, skating. Whether it be Dayton Arena, a pond cleared of snow, or that one magical year when Maquoit Bay froze over after a rainfall, impromptu hockey games were dominated by the most graceful of skaters.
Jim is survived by his wife, Jane. He is predeceased by Gloria, his wife of 51 years, and he leaves their four daughters: Pamela Fife, of Bucksport, ME, Susan Fife, of Boston, MA, Dr. Alison Fife, of Wellesley, MA, her husband, Mario Teixeira, and their children Samuel, Isabel Mia, and Benjamin, and Dr. Jennifer Fife, of Portland, ME, and her daughter, Alexandra.
We remember our father as a loving husband, father, brother, uncle, grandfather and friend. We think he would want to be remembered as a kind and gentle person, a dedicated surgeon, and a great hockey player.