Partner James F. Payne
1010 West Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Harvard University, 2 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA 02138
Columbia University, 116th St & Broadway, New York, NY 10027
206 N 35th St, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Walter Jay Lear (May 4, 1923 - May 29, 2010) was an American physician and activist for healthcare reform and LGBT rights. Among the Radical Fairies, his name was Tuffolbird. Among his contributions, Lear was a founder of the Institute of Social Medicine and Community Health and the Maternity Care Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. In 1964 Lear was also a founder of the Medical Community for Human Rights. He received the American Public Health Association's Helen Rodriguez-Trias Award for his contributions to the cause of social justice. Lear was married to opera singer Evelyn Lear from 1945 to 1952, with whom he had two children. Later, Lear's life partner was James F. Payne, a relationship that began in 1953 and continued until the time of Lear's death.
Lear was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 4, 1923. He was the son of Dr. E.G. Lear. He attended Harvard University, then known as Harvard College, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in 1943. He subsequently completed his medical degree at the Long Island College of Medicine in 1946. Lear completed his M.D. with the aid of the Army Specialized Training Program during World War II. He also earned a master of science in hospital administration at Columbia University in 1948. Lear's training in hospital administration included field work at the Montefiore Medical Center.
Following completion of his formal education, Lear worked for the United States Public Health Service. In 1964, he moved to Philadelphia to become the city’s first deputy health commissioner. He served in this role until 1971. During the course of his career, Lear held a variety of public health positions, including regional health commissioner for the Pennsylvania Department of Health and director of the Philadelphia General Hospital. He was appointed to these positions by Pennsylvania Governor James H. J. Tate. Lear also was appointed in 1971 by Governor Milton Shapp as State Regional Health Commissioner. During his tenure as a public health official, Lear campaigned for a City of Philadelphia law that would ban discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation, ultimately resulting in passage of the city's Gay Rights Bill in 1982. Lear's public service roles extended beyond public health. In 1984, Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode appointed Lear to the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission.
Lear was one of the founders of the Maternity Care Coalition and Physicians for Social Responsibility. Even late in life, from his retirement home, he founded the Institute for Community Health and Social Medicine which monitors progress of health activism and assists community organizers. Through much of his career, Lear mentored many young activists in advancing their social justice causes. Lear was a founder of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. As part of his efforts on this committee, he was one of 30 doctors who picketed the 1963 conference of the American Medical Association in Atlantic City, New Jersey, protesting the organization's segregationist policies of the time. This protest resulted in significant media attention for Lear.
Lear advocated for a large number of organizations dedicated to the advancement of LGBT rights. Among these, Lear was a co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, which later became known as the William Way Center. He was additionally a co-founder of the Philadelphia AIDS Task Force and the Maternity Care Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. Lear was an organizer of the first national conference on AIDS in the 1980s.
In 1970 Lear and Payne moved to Old Powelton Village. They lived at 206 N. 35th Street, an Italianate style, three story, house with smooth stuccoed brick facade, rusticated smooth stone quoins and elaborately carved large double wood brackets below cornice of flat roof. Circa 1900. The Colonial Revival porch with turned balustrade, Tuscan columns and semicircular portico with dentillated and modillioned cornice, was added sometime between 1892 and 1902. Before that time, there was a 7’6” wide piazza that stretched straight across the front.
It was while serving in the state Health Department that Lear decided to come out of the ‘closet.’ In January 1976, the first edition of the Philadelphia Gay News reported that Lear, then 52, had revealed himself to be homosexual. He subsequently stated that he likely would have never received his public health appointments for government service had he been openly gay. Although there was initial controversy after Lear's disclosure, he received strong support from fellow physicians. Lear reported that his interest in medical activism dated to 1943 when he attended presentations in New York City by Morris Fishbein, of the Postwar Planning Committee of the American Medical Association, and J. Peters, of the Physicians' Committee to Improve Medical Practice. These presentations addressed the state of medical care in the United States at that time. Lear was a competitive amateur swimmer, having competed in the 75-80 age bracket in swimming at the Gay Olympics.
Lear died of kidney failure as a complication of multiple myeloma. At the time of his death, he was living in the Powelton Village neighborhood of Philadelphia and had been in hospice care.
In 2022 Delaware Valley Legacy Fund recently announced the creation of the Walter J. Lear Endowed Fund, which will provide grants to community-building organizations which work with equity and inclusion within the LGBTQ+ community, health concerns and issues related to the LGBTQ+ community, and research aimed at bolstering the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, all things which reflect Lear’s vision and life’s work. To start off the endowment fund, William Way Community Center will receive $25,000 for naming rights to the Center’s library and reading room, which will honor the legacy of Lear and his longtime partner, James F. Payne. WWCC will also receive half of all the fund’s future endowment interest in perpetuity.
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