“It’s the right time to leave and start something new,” said Dr. Earl “Trey” Washburn of his recent retirement. Washburn’s last day at Marshall Medical Center was Aug. 29. After 37 years as a pediatric doctor in Placerville, Washburn, who said he planned to never retire, is ready to try something new — writing children’s books.
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“I’ve become a card-carrying member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators,” said Washburn, 66, whose first book, “The Washburn Cousins Blast Off,” was written for his four grandchildren. “Grandchildren are a great place to cut your teeth on writing — they’re a pretty uncritical audience.” He is working on a second book for his grandkids, but has plans for a mainstream book for middle grade students.
Children have been the major part of Washburn’s professional life as a pediatrician — a career he never foresaw himself doing. “The whole thing was so surprising. I would have thought I’d end up as a high school chemistry teacher instead.”
During his first week as a pharmacy major in college, Washburn realized he didn’t want to be a pharmacist, but he had no idea what he did wanted to do. “I went to my college advisor who gave me some vocational tests. One test, the Strong (Inventory of Interests), told what you’d be happy doing, but not whether you’d be good at it.”
The test predicted Washburn would be happiest as a medical doctor or a musical performer. “In my heart of hearts, music would be the best, but the talent wasn’t that great.” So Washburn became a doctor and found that the vocational test had been a good predictor of his happiness on the job.
“I love winning — being able to figure something out and then it works,” said Washburn. “I love the long-term relationships with families and when the second generation starts coming into the office.” Washburn referenced one of his surgery professors whose daughter became a friend and her children and grandchildren became his patients. “That’s fabulous. What a wonderful thing to be able to do,” he said.
After graduation from University of California, Davis, School of Medicine in 1973, Marshall Hospital was Washburn’s first real job. “It stuck,” said Washburn. “I’d grown up in Northern California and Marian, my wife, had family in the area, so we looked for a place close to family that needed a pediatrician.” Placerville had no pediatricians but had recently acquired two obstetricians. “Before that, family doctors delivered the babies and took care of the children, but with two obstetricians, there was an opening for me,” said Washburn.
“When we moved here in 1976, there was already a Dr. Washburn, an optometrist,” said Washburn. “It drove his office people crazy at first because people would show up for pediatrics.”
In addition to being a pediatrician, Washburn was also an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at UCD’s School of Medicine for 25 years. “That was enjoyable for a long time. The students came here. Dr. Thayer, a surgeon, was one of them,” Washburn said.
Along with the successes he and his little patients experienced together, there were heartbreaking cases as well. “I was clearing out my office and I found a lot of mementos from patients and their families,” said Washburn. “Not everything was happy, but it was all real.”
One memento was from the family of a child who had died of leukemia many years ago. “The mother made something for me and brought her other children in as patients. They all grew up and brought their children to me.”
Washburn and his wife of 43 years, Marian, raised their two sons in Placerville, building friendships and a life of service to their community along the way. “We developed a close circle of friends and we still get together once a month to play bridge. We’ve been through thick and thin together,” he said.
Marian Washburn’s 20 years as a city planning commissioner, city council member and Placerville mayor cemented their relationship to the city as well.
“One day, I looked at the spreadsheet and realized I could retire at 66. I gave two years notice, but it was like planning my own funeral,” said Washburn. “I really love the job and the kids and families I’ve come to know, so it’s been bittersweet, but even if I waited another few years, it would still be bittersweet.”
Washburn said there have been a lot of saying goodbye, hugs and reassurances in the past six months. “It’s been hard, but retiring is what we all work toward. I’m still young enough to reinvent myself. For the first time I have the opportunity to restructure my life around me. It may sound selfish, but after college, medical school and working, you’re always dancing to someone else’s tune. I’ve wanted to work on writing for quite a while. I just needed the time to do so.”
Writing, walking the Washburns’ rescue dog, Stella, and traveling with Marian is part of Washburn’s new life, but, for a while, there are still ties to the old one.
For the rest of this year Washburn is still chairman of the Pediatric-Perinatal Committee at Marshall. He’s been a delegate to the California Medical Association for 22 years and has another few years as a board member on the Sierra Health Foundation. “It’s time to wind down, but I won’t run out of things to do. Things end up finding you,” he said.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.