Dr. John Joseph Shea Jr.

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, February 11, 2015

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Sept. 4, 1924 – Feb. 8, 2015

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Funeral mass for Dr. John Joseph Shea Jr., 90, of Memphis, Tenn., who died peacefully at home from respiratory illness Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015, surrounded by his large and loving family, will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Peter Catholic Church in Memphis, where he was a parishioner.02:11 Dr.JohnShea obitpic

Burial will follow at the Calvary Cemetery under the direction of Canale Funeral Directors in Memphis.

Visitation will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday at the funeral home.

Dr. Shea and his wife, Lynda Mead Shea, had recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

He was born in Memphis, Sept. 4, 1924, the third of six children to Dr. John Joseph Shea Sr. and Catharine Flanagan Shea.

He was a graduate of Christian Brothers High School and attended the University of Notre Dame. He was admitted to Harvard Medical School at age 19 and completed his training at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. In a medical career that lasted more than 60 years, Shea revolutionized the treatment of deafness, restored hearing to tens of thousands of patients and helped establish Memphis as a world-renowned medical center.

Shea had great reverence for his father, an eminent ear, nose and throat specialist. He followed his father into medicine but narrowed his focus to otology — the study of the ear. In 1954, Shea went to Vienna and studied manuscripts written in German in the 19th century about otosclerosis, a disease that causes progressive stiffening of the stapes, the tiny stirrup bone in the middle ear, and results in hearing loss. Surgical attempts to correct the problem had been abandoned and condemned by the medical establishment more than 50 years earlier. While in Vienna, Shea developed the idea for an artificial stapes, which he used to replace the diseased one, in a procedure he called “stapedectomy.” Upon returning to the United States, he enlisted the help of a young engineer and designed the world’s first prosthetic stapes.

Shea performed the first stapedectomy on a woman with otosclerosis in May of 1956. The operation was a success and the woman regained her hearing. Others followed. Shea presented his results to a skeptical medical community, and was initially criticized as reckless and dangerous. Eventually, the procedure came to be embraced as the definitive surgical treatment for otosclerosis. It is now performed and taught worldwide.

Shea continued to innovate in otology for the rest of his career. When Shea retired in 2011, he had operated on more than 50,000 patients. Shea’s accomplishments, awards and honors were too numerous to list. Among them are induction into the Royal Society of Medicine (England) in 1959. In September of 1962, he was on the cover of Life Magazine as one of “The Take-Over Generation: One Hundred of the Most Important Men and Women in the United States.” In 1967, Shea moved his practice into the Memphis Eye and Ear Hospital at 1060 Madison Ave. Anticipating the trend toward outpatient surgery, Dr. Shea built the present-day Shea Clinic at 6133 Poplar Pike in 1985. The Shea Clinic was the first outpatient surgical Center licensed in the state of Tennessee.

Dr. Shea’s love for medicine was exceeded only by his generosity and love for his family and church.

He was a member of the Memphis Country Club and the Memphis Hunt and Polo Club.

Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Lynda Mead Shea; five children, Dr. John Joseph Shea III, Gwyn Rainer Shea Canarios and husband, Mike, Dr. Paul Flanagan Shea and wife, Jessica, Susanna Mead Shea and Peter Ryan Shea; seven grandchildren, Avery Huffman and husband, Tim, John J. Shea IV, Matthew Shea, Rainer Shea, Emily Shea, Gwyn Fisher and Phillip Allan Fisher IV and wife, Penelope; three great-grandchildren, Anna, Jackson and Sophia Huffman; five siblings, Jeanne Leatherman, Catharine Roberts, Ellen Thompson, Mary Dixon and Martin F. Shea; and Catharine, Mary and Martin.

Dr. Shea, a devout Catholic, will be remembered by tens of thousands of patients whose lives he touched. His contributions to otology and the treatment of deafness survive him. He was a force of nature, a pioneer in medicine, a beloved husband, father and family man.

The family requests memorials be sent to the Missionaries of Charity, 700 N. 7th St., Memphis, TN 38107.