Dr. Byron H. Demorest, a longtime medical and community leader who was a founding father of UC Davis School of Medicine, died Friday of multiple myeloma, his family said. He was 86.
Dr. Demorest was a widely respected ophthalmologist for more than 50 years. He was active in efforts to start a medical school at the University of California, Davis, and co-founded the ophthalmology program in 1965. As the first department chairman, he helped organize the faculty and created the medical school's first accredited residency program.
"Byron was in so many ways a visionary," said Dr. Mark Mannis, UC Davis ophthalmology chairman. "He realized that, in addition to a private-practice community, the state capital needed a strong academic program for training young ophthalmologists."
Dr. Demorest served as an associate examiner for the American Board of Ophthalmology. He was a leader in professional groups, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the California Association of Ophthalmology. In 1973, he was president of the Sacramento County Medical Society.
A River Park resident since 1957, he volunteered as president of the Boys Scouts of America Golden Empire Council and chairman of the Sacramento Symphony Association. He was an elder at Fremont Presbyterian Church.
He also was well known in the community during the 1970s as moderator of "Doctor's Notebook," a daily TV news segment on KCRA (Channel 3). Gifted with a broadcaster's voice and an easy bedside manner, he interviewed colleagues and answered questions about medical issues.
"One time he said, 'Parents, if your teenagers love you, then you've been a great failure,' " said his daughter, Susan Gilsdorf. "He had a great sense of humor."
Dr. Demorest worked his way through medical school as a radio announcer. The son of a newspaper editor, he was born in 1925 and raised in Omaha, Neb.
He earned bachelor's and medical degrees from the University of Nebraska. He was a Navy lieutenant commander and spent five years as an assistant clinical instructor at Stanford University.
He had three children with his wife of 64 years, Phyllis. Besides collecting stamps and growing vegetables, he enjoyed sailing and snow skiing.
In addition to his private practice, Dr. Demorest attended weekly rounds and trained residents at UC Davis Medical Center. He was chairman of the scholarship committee for the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society until his death and served as master of ceremonies at the group's annual meeting for the last 10 years.
"He had this amazing radio voice and was often called upon to emcee events," society executive director Bill Sandberg said. "We called him 'Golden Throat.' "