Jeffrey F. Ritter, a physician's assistant who was recalled for his bedside manner and willingness to listen, died Friday of cardiac arrest related to kidney disease at Hanover Hospital in Pennsylvania. The former Westminster resident was 55.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Ellicott City, he was the son of Gregory B. Ritter, a retired Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. worker, and Josephine O. Foster Ritter, a homemaker and real estate sales agent, who died this year.
Mr. Ritter was a 1976 graduate of Howard High School, where he ran track. As a young man, he was also a volunteer at the Ellicott City and Savage fire companies, where he initially became acquainted with emergency medicine.
He earned an associate's degrees in respiratory therapy from Columbia Union College and at a physician's assistant program at Essex Community College. He later received a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Family members said he was a student of American history throughout his life.
On a blind date arranged by co-workers, he met his future wife, the former Anita L. Pezzulla, a mortgage loan originator at New Windsor State Bank.
As a physician's assistant, he worked at Howard County General Hospital with the medical practice of Drs. Brager, Gaber & Associates in Baltimore, at Sinai Hospital's traumatic brain injury unit, the Mont Alto Family Practice and Carroll Primary Care Associates in Westminster.
"Jeffrey was a gentle spirit and a great clinician," said Dr. Stephen Sikorski, who lives in Gamber and is a member of Carroll Primary Care. "Patients loved him. He was hardworking and empathetic. He was also well rounded. He could talk to the farmers and the old-timers about history. They liked this approach."
Until the day he died, Mr. Ritter saw patients at the Spring Grove Family Care Center in Pennsylvania, where he began working three years ago. He attended to patients and worked alongside a physician in the practice of about 5,000, about 60 of whom followed him after he left Westminster and relocated to Pennsylvania.
"Jeffrey had a huge impact on his patients' lives," said Dr. Howard Farrington, with whom he worked. "He himself had health issues, which he was working to overcome. He taught me to look at medical conditions in a different way. He didn't let things get him down. He always saw the glass as half full. He used his own health experiences to help motivate patients. He was also incredibly knowledgeable in the field. He would spend hours at the computer figuring out a medical issue."
Dr. Farrington, who lives in Hanover, said that Mr. Ritter had more than 20 years' experience in medicine. "He would look at a patient's symptom carefully," Dr. Farrington said. "He saw the things that people had been kicking around for years and made medical sense of their symptoms. He was a gifted diagnostician."
In his free time, Mr. Ritter collected antique tube-powered AM radios and enjoyed jazz, classical and big-band music. He read widely about the Civil War and became a re-enactor. He belonged to a unit called the 4th North Carolina Regiment and appeared at events in Carroll and Baltimore counties.
"Jeff was one of those people who make the world a better place," said his brother-in-law, John M. Pezzulla of Parkton. "He had this bedside manner and could give his patients a sense of comfort. They might be scared at first, but he would hold their hands and sit down and talk. He had a good approach to healing."
A Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, 5125 Grandview Road in Hanover, Pa.
In addition to his wife of 27 years and his father, who lives in Hanover, survivors include his two daughters, Kathleen M. "Katie" Ritter and Emily L. Ritter, also of Hanover; two brothers, Michael G. Ritter of Millers and Paul D. Ritter of Hanover; and a sister, Catherine M. Papathakis of Ellicott City.