Dr. Robert C. Sharp – March 1936 – January 2018
Long time La Habra Doctor Robert Sharp passed away last week. Services will be held Friday at 10 a.m. at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Orange, (185 S. Center Street) with the burial at 11 a.m.
Sharp was born March 12, 1936 in a suburb of Trenton, New Jersey.
His father, Edward, was a farmer and postal worker and his mother, Ruth, a teacher turned homemaker. He had one older brother, Edward Jr., and one younger brother, Nelson, who struggled with a disability. Their home was directly adjacent to the old family farm, established in 1849. Some of his fondest memories were of his early years on the farm and of his mother up until her passing when he was 9 years old.
He attributed his career in medicine to her since she would introduce him to strangers as “her little doctor.” His belief in her dream for him and his Christian upbringing “to serve others” crystallized his decision to pursue medicine.
After his mom passed, he and his elder brother had to take over household responsibilities and Robert took on the role of family worrier. His dad remarried a couple of years later to a woman with three children. He remembered that time as confusing and difficult, but it was about this time his admiration for teachers began. He was in the 5th grade and he always remembered the maiden and married name of his fifth grade teacher because he credited her with helping him the most following the passing of his mother. This is when he really began to value school and the possibilities if had for him and he began to excel as a student.
As he continued to progress and excel in school, one of his high school teachers made it possible for him to
go to Ursinus College by helping him get two scholarships, since his step-mom was adamantly against higher education. He graduated in 1959 and following his undergraduate studies he was accepted into Temple Medical School in Philadelphia one week after he applied. While in school he trained at both at Mercer Hospital in New Jersey and St. Christopher’s Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. He graduated from Temple in 1962 and was proud to say he paid for it himself by working through school.
Upon completing medical school, he began his Navy service, because at that time, there was a universal conscription that all medical school graduates would have to join a branch of the military. He enlisted as a lieutenant and was a military doctor. His second year in the Navy (May 1965) he was required to first go to Okinawa and then Vietnam for three months with the Marine Corps. While in Vietnam he was a field surgeon and said he was always amazed that he never got shot.
In 1967 he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. He then moved to Long Beach, where he was Chief of Pediatrics at Long Beach Naval Hospital from 1967-1970. He was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1975.
While working at the San Diego Naval Hospital in 1966, he met his wife, Catherine Burhopp. As the story goes, she lived in the same apartment complex, and one night she came home late and had to park her car behind his car. Robert was notorious (even in the military) for being late for work, so the next morning when he saw her car, he had another neighbor help him move it. She came back later and apologized. Because the Navy had multiple social functions that required a date and he thought she was pretty, they started dating.
After about 6 months of dating, they decided to get married in 1967 and his first daughter, Elyse, was born later that same year. He had four more daughters within the next four years, Eydie, Emilee, Erika and Evangeline.
The family moved to La Habra Heights in 1972 where he resided up until a hospitalization in May of 2017. It is true that Dr. Sharp and his large family of Sharps lived on the ironically named Sharpless Drive.
In the 1970’s he practiced medicine through various medical groups and became Chief of Pediatrics at Whittier Community Hospital in 1972. In the early 1980s he decided to start a private practice in Brea, which he loved and served as Chief of Pediatrics at Brea Community Hospital throughout the 1980s.
After a serious fall from his roof in 1991, he was forced to sell his practice in Brea. He worked for other medical groups for several years before returning to private practice in La Habra, where he served in direct patient care until May of 2017.
He loved to mentor medical students and had many future doctors intern under him over the years. He was a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics for Western University of Health Sciences from 1989-2006. Prospect Medical IPA honored him as physician most demonstrating courage, commitment and compassion for care of cancer patients in 2004.
He was also honored with a full-page write up in a Brea/La Habra newspaper for his 30-year career as a pediatrician in Brea. He was very proud to share his years of service to others as a physician. He was on staff at St. Jude’s Hospital in Fullerton for nearly 46 years. He had a total of 56 years as a career medical doctor and served 47 years as a staff physician before his passing.
His medical career defined him in many ways, but there were more sides to him than just being a doctor. After Catherine passed in 1995, he explored his love for gardening. He trained and interned to become a Certified Master Gardener for Orange County and would serve every other weekend as a plant specialist at the Fullerton Arboretum.
He would refer to himself as a “Rosarian” because at one time he had on his property over 170 rose bushes. He was very proud of his gardens.
Dr. Sharp was an avid collector of many things: stamps, coins, Jim Shore figurines, crystal figurines and TY beanie bears to name a few. He was known on occasion to sooth a patient or two with a beanie bear at the end of their visit. It’s even rumored he would give out 50 beanie bears in a month to his patients. He loved pandas, classical music, Broadway musicals, and of course black licorice. It was extremely easy to get a big smile and a “thank you” when presenting him with black licorice.
Dr. Sharp was also very cognizant and proud of his famous heritage. He was a first cousin to two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author John Updike and fourth cousin to Winston Churchill. Like his cousin John, Dr. Sharp was a gifted writer and storyteller. He could also write a tardy excuse for his kids like no other.
Family was extremely important to him. He maintained close relationships with all of his daughters from their childhood until he passed. He was an amazing Grandfather to 5 granddaughters, and 2 grandsons: Hayley (19) and Claire (17) Dolan; Katie (16), Quinn (11), and Keegan (9) Fitzpatrick; Brielle (9) Aucoin; and Hayden (21 months) Kennar. He always remembered everyone’s birthdays even in this last year when his health diminished. He was a close and involved Uncle to Reggie, Carol and Lauren Degner too. And, of course, Dr. Sharp was also very fond of his handsome and well fed golden retriever, Winston Churchill Sharp.
Dr. Sharp was always deeply spiritual with Christian roots since his childhood. He joined the Missouri Synod Lutheran faith after meeting Catherine and had maintained his Lutheran membership for 52 years. Raising his children in the Lutheran faith was important to him as well so he committed to sending them to Lutheran education from Kindergarten through high school. He mostly drove the girls to school, and they did set many records for being tardy. He was blessed with a beautiful singing voice and enjoyed being in the Choir at Trinity Lutheran in Whittier and singing at every church service he attended. For him the louder, the better, even if he skipped a line or sang a different verse.
In addition to his spiritual side he was very generous and had a passion for giving to nonprofit organizations. Some of his favorites included the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, SPCA, PBS, World Wildlife Fund, his church and USC Norris.
Dr. Sharp detailed his life story with his youngest daughter while in her graduate studies for a psychology paper on Erickson’s Psychological Stages of Development. As he discussed his experience of the final stage of development he told her that as he was getting older he was beginning to contemplate his role and purpose in life. He remembered in college that his philosophy was, “if I do something well, good will come back to me.” He continued to strive to do well in all aspects of his life, but later realized that having “good come back to me” was of lesser importance. Having a positive effect on others became a greater source of satisfaction for him.
Dr. Sharp wanted his family, friends, patients, colleagues and people he had encountered to remember his contributions to society and his most critical hope was to have an impact on people in a way that he would “always have meaning and be meaningful missed.” There is no doubt he accomplished that.