Posted in: BIO

BIO: Archie McCallister, Jr W4FCE (sk)

The following bio was written by his daughter Cynthia as we honor a man of many talents who contributed so much as a father, doctor and amateur radio operator. All his ham gear was donated to BRARA for members to rehab and use.

Archie McCallister, Jr was born on March 10, 1922 in Woodville, Florida. He had one brother, Louis Ray, his mother was Nina Rhodes McCallister and father Archie McCallister, Sr.

His father was a doctor who practiced in Tarpon Springs until his untimely death in 1931 and Archie and his brother both became physicians; Archie a board certified internist with a specialty in cardiology and his brother a pediatrician both graduating from Emory University college and medical school as had there father. Their mother graduated from Florida State College for Women, now FSU.

Archie obtained his ham radio license and built his first heathkit in 1935 at the age of 13. He told me the story of how, when he was in college, he came upon a special opportunity to buy a lot of very good ham equipment but he didn’t have the money. He went to his mother and asked for it telling her he’d never asked for anything before and never would again but this was a one time opportunity and he really wanted it. She gave him the money…not something readily done in my family!

I remember Dad always having a rig set up wherever we lived and there were usually lots of parts and extra pieces as he loved to tinker and take this and that from non-working equipment to build something that functioned. Hence the 5 Swanns were probably the tip of the iceberg.

From 1955-1960 he operated out of a tiny upstairs room next to my brother’s bedroom on 48th St and 2nd Ave in Miami and then from 1960-1970 in the Florida room right outside the french doors to my bedroom in our house on Sabal Palm Rd in Bay Point in Miami. He had a beautiful view across Biscayne Bay and Miami Beach as we backed onto the water right at the start of the Tuttle Causeway.

I can hear him saying CQ, CQ and, as his voice would be drowned out he would explain over the mic that we were on the flight pattern for the Miami Intl Airport. At some point I would finally shout out “Dad, I can’t sleep!” and he would say “Sorry, Sue Sue” and finish up his conversation with whomever it was around the world and close up for the night.

We always had huge antennae parts lying around the yard along with wooden sailboats and whatever other flea market treasures he’d come upon.

Often, on Saturdays, my mother would send him out to buy a new tv as ours no longer functioned and, invariably, he would return, sheepishly hauling an enormous outdated console with tiny oval TV screen out of the old Packard. He’d meant to buy a new color one but got sidetracked and found a gem he was sure he could get working.

He also drove an Austin Healey Sprite but refused to put the community sticker on any of his cars and my mother regularly received calls whenever there was a new guard at the gate asking whether the guy in the broken down convertible was really her husband and lived there as he claimed. Dad liked thrift shop clothes and rarely looked the part of a doctor.

Later, after the Packard, known as the lemon, that predictably broke down just as we got to some rural town in GA on every cross country family trip, finally proved to be unrescusitatable, he moved on to an even more monstrous International Harvester Travelall with a Scout sidekick because, of course, there was never just one of anything.

When my dad took a position as public health director of Palm Beach County in the early 70’s, they moved to Jupiter to a little wooden cottage on the Loxahatchee River but at that time he started turning wood and made many, many beautiful bowls and urns standing at his lathe in the open garage doorway on Riverside Dr. After that, they moved up to Stuart where he directed the Martin County health department. He was in his mid 50’s at that point and that is where he frequented flea markets obtaining a lot of the equipment I donated to you all. There are multiples of much of it and in varying states of repair as he continued to build and tinker ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.’

He built (probably mostly if not all by himself) an octagonal, windowed ham shack on stilts overlooking the north fork of the St Lucie River and this equipment sat in there for about 40 yrs before, in 2015, he and my mother were living in Tallahassee where they’d always kept ties and he asked if I could bring some of that equipment up so he could get back into hamming.

My brother and I pulled it from the decaying shack and hauled it all in my mini-van and set it up making him a ham shack in the dining room of their home on Windsor Way.

As usual, he had an array of huge antennae in the yard and some of the local hams came over and helped him set one up. He became pretty active in that club and made friends as always.

In his last few months, at age 94, after advanced cancer was diagnosed, I brought my parents down to West Palm Beach to an assisted living apartment. I took him over to the So FL Sci Center ham radio open house day and introduced him, in his wheelchair with his grandson by his side, as W4FCE. I tried to get someone from that club to set up a small antenna I’d brought and gotten permission for from the assisted living so he could ham with a compact rig I’d brought down. He’d ask every few days if I’d heard back but no one responded to my request.

He didn’t care for assisted living so I’d sprung them and moved them to the little river cottage and planned to get an antenna set up there when he quickly passed away on August 30, 2016. I believe he’d decided it was time to go. Towards the end he couldn’t hear worth a whit and he was too Scottish and “thrifty” to get much of a hearing aid but, instead, directed me to order a headset I was to wear to project my voice so he could hear. He’d researched it and thought it would work. but his mind was as sharp as a whip and his nurses said he had them all laughing the day before he died.

I asked for ham equipment and my brother brought all of this down to WPB in 2017 and, as I’m an artist, I held on to it until now. It’s all cool looking.There were many keys but I believe my brother may have sold them in an estate sale.

So, that’s how it all got to you.

Archie McCallister was a lifelong ham, threw himself into everything he pursued, moved away to other hobbies but always came back to hamming. In later years he was active in some medically oriented groups online and wrote medical and philosophical articles that can be found online. One is the MPN Forum.

He had a great sense of humor. He was beloved by his patients. He never cared about money often carrying patients on his books for years and wouldn’t increase his $5 price for a physical until my mother insisted that the vet charged more than he.

He and 8 other doctors started a hospital called North Shore Hospital in Miami Shores which he always called the horse pistol. He set up the cardiac care unit, flying off and taking courses at Mass General and Univ of Illinois and bringing back the knowledge to put into place at North Shore. Meanwhile, with his proud blessing, my mother would travel the world introducing my brother and me to art and architecture and culture.

Throughout my childhood, he made house-calls, often staying to dinner because a)  he loved to eat good food, the more garlicky and spicy the better and b) he believed you couldn’t figure out why someone had a heart attack or was going to unless you observed their life. He practiced integrative medicine long before it had a name.

He met my New England mother when she came to Miami and worked as a nurse at Jackson Memorial. She related that she’d asked the nurses what all the odd beakers and tubes were doing in the storage closet and they said “Don’t worry about that. It’s just Dr. McCallister’s experiments.” She married him anyway and he was devoted to her until their deaths 3 weeks apart in their mid-nineties.

In the early 60’s he bought a city block in Liberty City in Miami and built a clinical lab for fun. There he and Cuban doctors he’d befriended, early refugees who weren’t licensed yet to practice in the US did medical research. I still have beakers and tubes et al.

He always had cars in the yard and got away with it in some pretty upscale neighborhoods. He always made sure my mother had her Cadillacs and BMW’s but he and I traded VW bugs back and forth for years as he tinkered and fixed them. That Austin Healey finally fell into pieces and, as I said about his boats, “went back to the earth whence it came.” He and my mother never got rid of anything but sometimes nature intervened. He didn’t part with that car or its ‘usable parts’ despite every teenage boy in the vicinity stopping by and asking if it was for sale.

After retirement, my dad drove up to an elder hostel in Maine, fell in love with the area and brought my mother back to New England for summers. He hammed from their little house in Bucksport (CLICK HERE) looking out over Penobscot Bay.

Archie was a friend to all and a humble man who always described himself as an old Florida cracker, was content if my mother put a $20 bill and a blank check in his wallet in case he saw something he wanted to buy but he had no idea how much he was worth.

His first question was “Where are you from?” At the end of his life I noticed him asking orderlies, pa’s, anyone caring for him so he could find common ground and establish a relationship. He made everyone feel interesting and valued.

He effected numerous programs and environmental protections as a health director, free prenatal care for migrant workers, accessible and free vaccine programs for kids, even weekly VD clinics. He wasn’t proud or concerned what people thought. He believed in getting the job done. When giving annual physicals to the high school football team in Tallahassee he directed the nurses to set out a big bowl of condoms and to replenish it generously, his way of keeping the underage birthrate down and protecting Leon County’s youth. He would laugh when outraged mothers would contact him about a head lice outbreak in a local school. His reply, “Madam, a child without head lice is a child without friends.”

We didn’t get a lot of medical attention at home…my parents didn’t believe in blubbering or organ recitals. Once a year or so you’d stumble into the kitchen for breakfast and there’d be the vaccinations on the butcher block. He’d fill out school health forms, estimating healthy blood pressures, etc. In 4th grade they had to send home a note saying I couldn’t see the big E. Nevertheless, I’d always go to him for advice. Some of my favorite Dr. Mac diagnoses: “Have you had this before? Well, you’ve got it again;” “So, you think you’ve broken your ankle? Drink more Gatorade.” And, his answer to a cold or flu…”You can go get a prescription or you can take two aspirin, a bottle of whiskey, a pile of books and go to bed.” Nonetheless, many patients wrote to him over the years believing and grateful that he’d saved their or loved ones lives.

I remember him telling me how he had to attend County Commission meetings in Stuart in the early 80’s when developers were seeking variances on building limits on the shoreline. In his slow southern drawl he said “Sue, I wait til just before lunch to give my expert testimony. Then I go on and on about septic overflow. They turn green and deny the variance.” When I called Maggie Hurchalla, a former commissioner he’d enjoyed working with to tell her he’d died she said that limit to 4 stories or less in Martin Co was all Archie and it holds to this day.

I’m proud of my dad and to have had him as my dad. I didn’t get his wavy red hair and freckles or cleft chin but I got his face and love of making things with my hands. Being a Southern, true gentleman of his era, he didn’t naturally realize my interest in things he thought were for guys. I had to lounge on the deck of his sailboat pretending to perfect my tan as a teenager while listening to him teach my brother to sail. He was shocked and “pleased and proud” when I took the helm one day and deftly steered the boat into his slip. After that, we spent many hours sailing together without saying much as was our way, just being together.

Similarly, I remember my disappointment at age 5 when Dad (dear old as he referred to himself) came home with a cool pocket knife for my brother and a pink bear rug for me). It was 40 years later when he finally realized my interest in tools and thus painstakingly put together a box for me. For months he would call me at my Soho loft to ask whether I had vice grips and did I know what they’re for. I cherish my box and in particular the handmade chisels he made on his lathes.

He was an eccentric. I believe I have 17 lathes, probably wood and metal in case anyone needs one. He would bring a lathe into the kitchen and there it would stay, my mother finally stacking dishes on top. Their bedroom was a graveyard of old black and white tv consoles that would, eventually, become buried under clothes.

In the summer of 1969 Dad got himself instated as a camp doctor in the mountains of North Carolina. It was an amateur radio camp and we all had to go and take classes to get our licenses. I was good at the code so when we went to Winston Salem to be tested, I actually got mine while a lot of the savvy techie guys weren’t able to pass that initial hurtle. I never used my license but occasionally he would to keep it up and 88’s got him a lot of attention??.

My freshman year at Harvard, I was mortified when a bunch of guys excitedly knocked on my door saying they had my dad on a phone patch from FL and he was asking to talk to me. The ham club (originators of the term HAM, which I never knew!) was in a dusty attic and the conversation “Uh, hi Dad” was beyond awkward in front of all those boys. But we laughed about it later.

Dad collected old outboard motors particularly British seagulls and he would tinker with them in the hull while I sailed whatever the current wooden sailboat might be. He’d go to the Miami boat show and buy funky little boats like the Italian one that no one else wanted.

We found about 100 QSO cards he’d received over the decades and I framed them for his last shack.

Dad had many interests and pursuits. But, probably his first and most enduring was ham radio. He would be “pleased and proud” that you all are able to use and rehab his equipment. As am I. I hope you think of W4FCE as you enjoy his treasures. I know they were chosen carefully with great thought as to what he would do with each and every piece.

All the Best and 88’s,

Cynthia (formerly QWF)