Cover photo for Lionel Gilbert Thatcher's Obituary
Lionel Gilbert Thatcher Profile Photo

Lionel Gilbert Thatcher

April 12, 1930 — June 6, 2024

Plymouth

Lionel Gilbert Thatcher

To View the Livestream for Gilbert's Funeral Service:

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Lionel Gilbert Thatcher, known as Gilbert, but also Gil, Grandpa, and Bonkum, died peacefully in his sleep June 6, 2024, at the age of 94 in Plymouth, MN. He was born in Logan, Utah, April 12, 1930, to Mabel Elizabeth Griffin and Lionel Wilmot Thatcher. He was married for 68 years to his beloved wife, Sylvia Hasler Thatcher, who survives him. He is also survived by his sister Annette Thatcher Jorgensen and her spouse Dave Jorgensen, and brother John Griffin Thatcher and his spouse Janet Thatcher, his six children and their spouses, Laurel Thatcher McNeil (Jed Douglas McNeil), Blaine Gilbert Thatcher (Amy Holtom Thatcher), Sabina Thatcher (Karl Parens), Barbara Thatcher James (Scott Lemont James), Bradley Hasler Thatcher (Elizabeth Pearson Thatcher), and Stephen Hasler Thatcher (Charis Van Dusen Thatcher), as well as 21 grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his Father and Mother, and his twin Sister Elizabeth who died days after birth and his Sister Janet Ruth Thatcher Gardiner and her spouse Lester Raymond Gardiner, Jr. 

 He attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio for his major in chemistry which he completed in three years. He graduated from medical school at the University of Wisconsin in 1955.

 Gilbert married Sylvia Hasler on Sept. 4, 1956, in the Salt Lake City Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

 He began a one-year Pediatric residency at the University of Utah, during which he was drafted as one of the last doctors for the post Korean War as the cold war was gaining steam in 1957. He was stationed in Toul, France, serving as an Army Captain in a M.A.S.H. unit. Just months into their marriage, Sylvia left her studies at the University of Utah to join him in France for two years, giving birth to their first child Laurel.

Upon returning to the U.S., Gilbert completed a three-year fellowship in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at the University of Wisconsin. He began his career as a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin Medical school in Madison, where Sylvia gave birth to three more children, Blaine, Sabina, and Barbara.

 Gilbert moved his family to Milwaukee, accepting a position as Associate Professor and Director of Hematology at Milwaukee Children’s Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin (formerly Marquette Medical School). His fifth child Bradley was born there. Gilbert’s fierce advocacy for his patients and their parents changed the system while in Milwaukee. He threatened to quit unless the hospital allowed parents of children with cancer and serious blood diseases to visit their children at any hour (beyond 2-4 pm and 7-8 pm). The hospital relented, making an exception for his patients’ parents to be with their child at any hour.

 In 1975, he accepted a full professorship at the University of South Dakota, becoming the first pediatric hematologist in the State, establishing the first hematology/oncology program in the State, and helped establish the State’s first four-year medical school. Sylvia gave birth to their sixth child, Stephen, in Sioux Falls. He also dedicated himself to building a fledgling branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving as Branch President and overseeing the early fundraising for and building expansion of the Chapel in Sioux Falls.

 He would go on to become the Chairman of Pediatrics at Southern Illinois University Medical school in Springfield. Finally, in 1989, he exited his academic career by moving to La Crosse, Wisconsin, establishing a childhood cancer program at Gundersen Clinic. He finished his career exclusively treating the patients he loved.

 He was an author in many peer-reviewed medical journals and took part in the amazing evolution of the treatment of childhood cancers. At the onset of his career, Leukemia was incurable. He chose one of the most challenging and difficult specialties as well as one of the lowest paid subspecialties in all of medicine. When his son Stephen, who also became an oncologist, asked him why he chose this field he said, “I just love children, they never hold a grudge.”  

 Gilbert saw more suffering and death than the most seasoned war veterans. He told hundreds if not thousands of parents that their child was going to die. When he finally retired at 67, he said he was glad he never had to tell another parent that their child was going to die. More importantly, his efforts helped hundreds of children survive childhood cancer and blood diseases, transforming the mortality rates of what were once incurable diseases. The most common type of leukemia had a 90% cure rate at the end of his career.  

 When asked what he was most proud of concerning his career, he said “that I helped in the worst moments a child can have.” And that he fought hard to allow parents to be with their dying child. He loved a good fight, and time and again beat back bureaucracy that got in the way of humanity. He dedicated his life to helping the sickest children in the hospital. 

 He loved music and could often be heard playing Scott Joplin songs on the piano throughout his life. He and Sylvia played 4-hand piano duets throughout their marriage at home, church and social events. He equally loved the outdoors, and had a true passion for fly fishing, which he instilled in his children and grandchildren. His latent love for golf was unleashed in his retirement. He passed his love for learning onto his six children who all graduated from college, four with postgraduate degrees.

 As a lifelong disciple of Jesus Christ and a fifth-generation member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he and his wife Sylvia taught their family to volunteer for life through church service. His faithfulness to his wife Sylvia and marriage have left a profound eternal legacy for his descendants. She tirelessly supported him and their family during his many years being the only pediatric specialist on call. All of his six children followed his example in marriage and continue his example of dedicated service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His three sons served 2-year, full-time missions for the Church as well as six of his grandchildren. Poignantly, his grandson returned from his missionary service in Mexico an hour before Gilbert passed away.

 His funeral will be held Saturday, June 15, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Chapel at 11:00 am, 330 Vicksburg Ln. N, Plymouth, MN. The burial will be later that afternoon at 5:30 pm, at Groveland Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, please consider a tribute donation to Ronald McDonald House Charities, which allows families to stay together while a child receives cancer treatment.

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Past Services

Visitation

Saturday, June 15, 2024

10:00 - 11:00 am (Central time)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

330 Vicksburg Ln N, Plymouth, MN 55447

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Funeral Service

Saturday, June 15, 2024

11:00am - 12:00 pm (Central time)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

330 Vicksburg Ln N, Plymouth, MN 55447

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Graveside Service

Saturday, June 15, 2024

5:30 - 6:00 pm (Central time)

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