Revered physician Jack Caskey, who delivered a lot of Aspen babies, dies in Athens, Georgia
Jack Caskey, a physician revered in Aspen for helping thousands of women stay healthy and for bringing hundreds of babies into the world, died Aug. 21 in Athens, Georgia.
Caskey learned with no warning Aug. 1 that he had pancreatic cancer that had spread throughout his body. He died three weeks later, said his longtime wife, Suzanne Caskey.
“Even for that last month it was hard for us to believe he was ill,” Suzanne said. “He looked cancer in the eye and didn’t blink,” she added of the experience.
“It was a grace he showed often in his life,” she said.
Caskey gave up a successful practice as an ob-gyn in Dallas for a fresh start in Aspen despite warnings by the medical establishment in town at the time that he wouldn’t receive referrals or privileges at the hospital. It was one of the biggest risks of his life, Suzanne said, and a tremendous reward.
The Caskeys came to Aspen on their honeymoon in 1972 and fell in love with the mountains and town.
“It was a small town. It felt like a small town you could put your arms around,” Suzanne said. And it reminded them of the southern communities where they were raised, she said. Jack was a native of Memphis.
In 1977, Caskey stopped taking new patients in Dallas and set up an office in Aspen. While the medical establishment shunned him, the community did not. He had six weeks’ worth of patients upon moving to town the following year.
“When we first moved to Aspen there was a baby boom going on,” Suzanne said. It was a bit more than they were expecting.
Jack once estimated he delivered 3,000 babies during his 10 years in Dallas and while practicing in Aspen from 1978 to 1996.
“Our life in Aspen was like a constant family reunion — constant,” Suzanne said.
They would frequently run into families with kids whom Jack had delivered as babies. Moms would introduce the children and tell them Jack had brought them into the world. Jack would take an interest in the kids and say something along the lines of, “Oh, yes, I remember you. Do you know what you looked like when you were born?”
He would then scrunch up his face in a particular way, spit and mimic crying. It always delighted the kids, Suzanne said.
Dr. Bill Mitchell, a pediatrician, started working in Aspen in 1986 and developed a close professional and personal relationship with Caskey.
“He delivered a whole lot of babies here in town,” Mitchell said.
A defining example of Caskey’s character was that he was one of the few doctors on the Western Slope who would care for indigent pregnant women. He had patients from throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and Interstate 70 corridor coming to see him, according to Mitchell.
Transcending his professional practice, Caskey was genuinely a good-hearted soul.
“He was always such a Southern gentleman,” Mitchell said, specifying his polite, friendly and easy-going nature.
“I’ll just miss our talks and time together.”
After Caskey’s retirement, he and Suzanne traveled extensively but maintained roots in Aspen, where they lived for 38 years before moving to Athens in 2016. They built a tradition of hosting Southern natives at their residence in Aspen for a holiday party and reading of “The Cajun Night Before Christmas.” Caskey always read with a Cajun dialect.
Longtime Aspen resident John Kelleher said he will always be indebted to the Caskeys for their friendship after his wife died a few years ago. They would invite him out for walks on nice days in the first winter he was grieving, a time when it was just good to have a friend. The Caskeys and Kellehers knew each other socially since the late 1970s. Even though they never spent a lot of time together, the Caskeys were easy to talk to and their friendship always picked up where it left off despite time apart from travels, Kelleher said.
“We could talk about anything and everything. We told quite a few stories, including a few lies,” he quipped.
He will miss his friend. “You feel like you’ve lost a member of the family,” Kelleher said.
Suzanne said Jack died just shy of his 84th birthday, though “he still looked 50,” she said.
She believes one of the greatest traits of her husband was his ability to listen. He took the time to find out what was going on in the big picture of his patients’ lives, figuring a range of factors leads to good or ill health. Caskey received a handful of letters and emails over the years from women who claimed his care saved their lives. Many other women simply thanked him for excellent care.
One thankful patient, and soon a friend, was Sherry Bruff.
“I remember especially his interest in lingering with a patient to make sure all that needed to be covered had been covered, all that wanted to be said was said,” Bruff said via email. “He cared for the head and the heart as well as for the body, and for that he made an instant and permanently positive impression.”
She said Dr. Caskey tended to her needs in the “wee hours” one night and she felt sympathetic to both of them, knowing Jack had left Suzanne in a warm bed to tend to a distraught patient.
“How many times they must have endured that over the years,” Bruff said. “What patience they had as they tended to their community. My appreciation went that night to Suzanne as well as to poor Jack; they were a duo.”
Despite listening to patients all day, Jack always had time and wanted to hear about his wife’s day when he got home, Suzanne said.
He has a “splendid ability to listen,” Suzanne said. “He has an immense ability to make me feel cherished.”
A public memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Oct. 21 at T Lazy 7 Ranch in Aspen.
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