Calaveras Enterprise

Remembering the doctor for all seasons

Linda and Bill Colliflower in Saudi Arabia. Bill died in late January.Courtesy photo

Linda and Bill Colliflower in Saudi Arabia. Bill died in late January.Courtesy photo

I was in the bar at the National Hotel in Jackson the last time I had a great conversation with Dr. Bill Colliflower. With the flush of saloon lamps glowing on framed Gibson girls and a visage of Buffalo Bill Cody, we talked about our shared love of books. The discussion eventually turned to Ernest Hemingway’s “Islands in the Stream,” which we agreed was not the old master’s best, but nonetheless offered a great glimpse of an artist’s spirit dying on the edge of the Caribbean.

Earlier that day, Colliflower had done his first book signing at Hein & Co. Bookstore for “Monsters of Medicine.” The in-depth study of pathological narcissism impressed everyone who picked it up, and Colliflower acted like anything but a late-life Hemingway. He was energized. He was motivated. He wasn’t about to face “the White Bull,” Hemingway’s term for a blank sheet of paper. Listening to the doctor riff, I glanced at a bawdy painting of big saloon girls on red velvet. It struck me that Colliflower had as much gusto for literature as anyone I knew. After five decades of saving lives and delivering babies, his scalpel-sharp intellect had plenty more contributions to make.



In late January, Colliflower passed away unexpectedly, leaving Amador County missing a prominent doctor, writer, reader, discourser, world traveler and community member. I attended Colliflower’s celebration of life on March 10 and was wowed by how many lives he impacted.

Any remembrance of Colliflower has to include the doctor’s endless curiosity; it seems to have been with him from the start. Before he ever put on his white coat, Colliflower was a naval test pilot on the U.S. aircraft carrier Oriskany. He jetted through the skies in the middle of the Cold War, a moment when deadly tensions were brewing along the 48th parallel. Colliflower went on to get his medical degree at the University of Colorado and his training as an obstetrician at Stanford University. Born with a globe-trotting addiction, he worked as a doctor everywhere from Guam to Saudi Arabia. In 1992, Colliflower left his practice in Hawaii to become one of the primary birthing doctors in Amador County. These days, trying to estimate how many babies he delivered for area families is an impossible task. We do know he detected rare cases of cancer and other health threats to his patients through his cautious manner and meticulous medical radar.

Colliflower and his wife, Linda, a well-known nurse, may have found their permanent home at Red Hawk Farms in Volcano, but they never stopped experiencing a sense of the world. The doctor also remained a man of many pursuits. He was an avid sailor, scuba diver, traveler, Scotch aficionado, wine connoisseur, cigar buff and maker of homemade olive oil. And there’s no doubt he was one of Amador County’s most relentless readers. Colliflower’s home library was stacked with more than 5,000 books. He had an ongoing challenge to himself to read at least one a week, a mark he usually hit. Not surprisingly, Colliflower’s knowledge of everything from Gettysburg to World War II intrigue seemed unmatched. People could be dumbfounded by his wealth of knowledge.

During Colliflower’s memorial service, his longtime buddy, Fred Kent, called him “a true giver and lover of people,” adding that the doctor was extremely generous in his private life.

“Bill delivered our granddaughter,” Kent recalled with a tender tone.

Another person offering memories was Dr. Arnold Zeiderman, who’d performed countless operations alongside Colliflower at Sutter Amador Hospital. Zeiderman said Colliflower was “a fine physician, surgeon and colleague” who exemplified the deepest commitments to his patients.

“You can’t do it alone when you’re a rural doctor,” Zeiderman acknowledged. “We were there to help each other, and it was wonderful, because we made each other better.”

Another close friend, Jay Michel, shared how Colliflower would always greet him: “He’d say, ‘Well, Jay, what do you know for sure today?’”

Michel then admitted that his standard answer to that question changed over the years.

“He was a mentor to me,” Michel said. “He inspired people and he grinded out a genuinely remarkable life.”

For my part, I knew Colliflower as a fellow nonfiction writer. When I first read “Monsters of Medicine,” I could only tip my hat to his tireless research abilities. I was also caught up in the psychological enigmas he so deftly unraveled. Colliflower’s approach to combing through case files on killer physicians was so thorough and penetrating that I realized he could have easily been an amazing journalist if he’d taken that path.

Despite his medical practice and commitment to family, Colliflower was, in fact, working on a second book at the time of his death. Called “Misfits of Medicine,” it was nearly completed.

Some people may wonder why Colliflower, as a writer, was so intrigued by doctors who do or did terrible things, why his mental agility and creative juices often flourished around personalities who were the antithesis of his own reputation.

For me, the answer lies in Colliflower’s own words. “Physicians traditionally are trained to heal,” he wrote in “Monsters of Medicine.” “They are respected universally for their ability to cure disease, ease suffering and provide wise counsel to those with disabilities. Yet some physicians have been known to inflict immense suffering.”

Colliflower clearly followed the brightest star that guides what medicine is about. When he learned of doctors who’d taken much darker paths, it so perplexed him that it put his formidable mind of up against that Gordian knot, and then he did his damnedest to untie it. He wanted to detect the patterns. He hoped to create a warning system. In that respect, the book was just one more step in a life that had been dedicated to the endless task of combating human pain. It was perfectly in character for a man whose character was widely known – and now, greatly missed.

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