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Slepian remembered for strong commitment to family, medicine

Courageous and caring, humorous and unpretentious -- all can describe Dr. Barnett A. Slepian, who was remembered Sunday night as a friend, mentor, husband, father and determined physician.

Five hundred family members, friends, colleagues and strangers attended a community memorial service for the slain physician at Temple Beth Am in Amherst.

They chuckled some and blinked away tears at thoughts of Slepian's driving a beat-up, rusty 1960s Chevrolet, and of his now unfulfilled dream of cruising down Route 66 at sunset in a recreational vehicle with his wife, Lynne.

The hourlong service, in memory of the Amherst physician who was killed by a sniper's bullet inside his home Oct. 23, was noteworthy also for the presence of Amherst Police around the temple.

Slepian's friend of 17 years recalled expecting his new neighbors, the Slepians, to have the posh lifestyle befitting a doctor: "That is until we saw Bart's car, a beat-up, rusty 1960s Chevy," said Louis Fink.

He also mentioned Slepian's famous love of road trips.

"Reaching the destination was always something of an afterthought," Fink recalled. "It was no surprise when it took Bart 3 1/2 hours to drive to Toronto and six hours to drive to Syracuse."

To Slepian's children -- Andrew, Brian, Michael and Philip -- Fink said their father always wanted them to experience all that life had to offer.

"I know how much your dad loved you, how he tried to have special times. I hope you will always remember the special times and find solace in knowing of your dad's great love for you," Fink said.

Marilynn Buckham, executive director of Buffalo GYN Womenservices where Slepian performed abortions, said that in the last month she has pored over many letters from people who never knew Slepian, but who were touched by his life and death.

"I am here to act as a messenger, to bring to you the voices of others to remind you of how many lives he touched: personally, professionally and, since his death, inspirationally," she said.

Dr. Nedra Harrison, president of the Erie County Medical Society, recounted a recent social gathering where doctors were bemoaning their profession, questioning why they chose medicine.

"Because you're a doctor at heart and a good one," she recalled Slepian as saying. "We're not in it just because it's a living, but because it's our destiny to help, to heal."

Slepian chose the most difficult field in obstetrics and gynecology, she said, and provided abortions for patients because of his fierce dedication to giving women the best medical care available.

"His dedication to the patients, I'm sure, caused many a missed family meal, gatherings and events when he was called away to a delivery," Dr. Harrison said. "But Bart's family had the same dedication and love of preserving that unbreakable doctor-patient bond, and patiently put dinner in the fridge for later."

Ms. Buckham said that "we will carry on. We will not stop. We will not close the clinic doors. We will continue to help women. That's what he devoted his life to, and that's what he would have wanted.

"We will do this as a lasting testimony to his life. His legacy will be our strengthened resolve to continue."

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