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Martin W. Gallagher Jr. - Doctor continues serving at free clinic

April 23, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

Martin W. Gallagher Jr.'s journey to Hagerstown - where he helped to found a free medical clinic that serves thousands of uninsured men, women and children - might have started when he decided to become a priest.

Or it might have begun even earlier, when he was growing up as the oldest of seven children in Washington, D.C., and its suburbs.

"I guess there's something in my DNA imprint that says you should give something back," said Gallagher, 68.

The Community Free Clinic, at 249 Mill St., serves any Hagerstown or Washington County resident who does not have health insurance. On average, the clinic has 15,000 patient visits a year.

After Gallagher and his significant other, William "Bill" Striler, moved to Hagerstown in 1989, they wanted to do something for the community.

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Realizing they had skills to offer - Gallagher is a doctor, Striler is a registered nurse - the couple's desire to help led to discussions with Community Action Council, Rescue Mission, Salvation Army and CASA.

The idea of opening a free clinic for the medically indigent was discussed and, on Feb. 13, 1990, the clinic opened in an old warehouse with a cold, drafty waiting room. It served 440 people in its first year and moved five years later, before opening at its present site in October 2004.

Gallagher was born in Washington, D.C. When he was 6 years old, he and his family moved to the suburb of Bethesda, Md.

In 1956, Gallagher started his freshman year at Georgetown University in a pre-med program, but then "felt a call, quote-unquote, an impulse to join the Catholic clergy," he said.

He joined the Jesuits and embarked on a 13-year classical studies program. When he finished, he was ordained as a Catholic priest in the Jesuit order.

He went to Washington to look for a teaching job and in the early 1970s met a George Washington University graduate student involved with DignityUSA, an organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics.

At the same time, Gallagher said, he realized he was gay and met Striler. They are still together, 34 years later.

Interested in helping the sick, Gallagher went to night school for two years and received his nursing degree. After working for several years as a nurse, Gallagher was accepted into Georgetown University's medical school program in 1979 and graduated in 1983.

For his medical school obligation, he owed the government three years of service in a medically underserved area. He headed to Cut Off, La., an area south of New Orleans, where he worked with HIV-positive patients.

Although a stroke in 2002 prevented Gallagher from volunteering for two years, he now volunteers at the free clinic "as often as I can" and is the president emeritus of the clinic's board of directors.

A quote created by Gallagher explains his desire to volunteer, he said.

"If I am able to reduce by however small a degree the total burden of human suffering on this earth, then my own life will have had purpose and meaning," he said.




Q&A

Name - Martin W. Gallagher Jr., M.D.

Address - Hagerstown

Date of birth - Aug. 16, 1937

Occupation - Physician

Most notable achievement - Being born!

Your proudest moment - Walking across the stage of the Kennedy Center and accepting my diploma from Georgetown University Medical School in 1983

Who is the person you most admire and why? - There are legions of "common people" not in the limelight whom I admire for their compassion, steadfastness to principle and truth.

However, of those in the public eye, people like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Bishop Desmond Tutu, Bishop John Shelby Spong, Neil Armstrong and President Jimmy Carter are among some of my heroes.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Who gave it to you? - "Follow your own conscience" - My mother.

What is the next goal you would like to achieve? - Travel and see more of the world, and visit more of our own wonders - Grand Canyon, etc.

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