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Saturday, July 1, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dr. John Bastyr, 83, Renowned For Naturopathic Medical Skill

Dr. John Bastyr, this area's most noted and influential advocate of natural medicine, was more than a physician. He was a healer.

"His way with patients, his ability to stimulate in them their ability to get better, he had that way with patients," said Dr. Joe Pizzorno, president and co-founder of Seattle's Bastyr University, named for Dr. Bastyr, who died Thursday at the age of 83 of heart failure.

Dr. Bastyr's success in helping patients rally was uncanny, even to the point of causing confusion for students who were attempting to learn naturopathic techniques, Pizzorno said. "It frustrated students. His healing presence was so powerful it was difficult for students to understand what medicines to prescribe," he explained.

Dr. Bastyr was an inspiration to many people, including Pizzorno. In 1972, when Pizzorno was a second-year naturopathic student, a court decision emerged that had a negative impact on the practice of naturopathic medicine. He asked Dr. Bastyr "if there was a future in this."

In his "kind, gentle way," Dr. Bastyr replied: "The truth of our medicine will always win out, the truth of what we are doing will always survive," Pizzorno recalled.

Dr. Bastyr was such a persuasive advocate for natural healing that he changed the direction of the life of Dr. Les Griffith, persuading him to become a naturopathic physician instead a medical doctor, as Griffith had originally intended.

Griffith, one of the three co-founders of Bastyr University who has a practice in Lynnwood, had finished his undergraduate degree and had applied to various medical schools when he met Dr. Bastyr.

Griffith's idea of naturopathic medicine was pretty negative. "I thought it was some sort of snake oil that you'd sell off the back of a buggy," Griffith remembers.

But then he was introduced to Dr. Bastyr.

"I liked the way he dealt with people, the whole ambience of making caring a part of the healing process. It was almost as if his caring had a will of its own to make people better," Griffith said.

Dr. Bastyr found his inspiration early, watching his father, a pharmacist, mix various herbs. "He grew up his whole life creating" herbal medicines, Pizzorno said.

Dr. Bastyr's family came to Seattle from North Dakota in 1928, and he attended Seattle College High School, which later became Seattle Prep High School. He received a doctor of naturopathy degree in 1934 and first began practicing in Georgetown. At age 80, Dr. Bastyr was still practicing, commuting between his Capitol Hill office and his 4-acre farm in Kent.

Dr. Bastyr helped establish the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Seattle in 1956. The college moved to Portland in 1978 but was replaced by what became Bastyr University in Wallingford, which now has an enrollment of 900 students and offers education in acupuncture, Asian medicine, nutrition and applied behavioral science along with naturopathic medicine.

For many years, naturopathic medicine floundered. During the 1960s and 1970s and into the '80s, natural medicine fell out of favor, resulting in just a handful of students at the university. But Dr. Bastyr wanted it survive, so he and other colleagues taught for free, Pizzorno said.

Griffith, who founded the university along with Pizzorno and Dr. Bill Mitchell, said he is glad they named the school after Dr. Bastyr while he was still alive.

"We wanted to sort of make a monument to him while he was still alive. We wanted him to know how much we cared," Griffith said.

Dr. Bastyr has no known survivors. His wife, Aletha, died in 1989.

A memorial service will be held July 17 at 11 a.m. at St. Mark's Cathedral on Capitol Hill. Remembrances are suggested to Bastyr University, 144 N.E. 54th St., Seattle, 98105.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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