Dr. McGurty honored by Peekskill Museum

Recalls magical, memorable moments of growing up here


Members of Peekskill’s police force who have served in the armed forces with Dr. McGurty outside Peekskill’s police station.

By Sally Bentley

Back in the day, doctors made house calls, especially in Peekskill.  These days that’s a rarefied event, but one homegrown doctor is putting his time on the line to ensure the health of a local house.  Dr. John McGurty Jr. will be honored by the Peekskill Museum at a gala fundraiser Thursday, October 13, with the goal of helping the museum to have a financially healthy future.

John and Kathy McGurty

The event will run from 6 to 8 PM at Factoría on John Walsh Boulevard and features a cocktail reception of hot hors d’oeuvres and an open bar. Diane Webster, Anita Creem, John Curran, George Oros and other members of the Museum planning committee wanted to spotlight the importance to the community of skilled medical practitioners and our vibrant area hospital.

The hospital has blossomed from a one room pre-Civil War brick building in the 1800s to the old Peekskill Hospital on South Street into the Hudson Valley Hospital Center on Crompond Road that is now the expanded New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital.

Old Peekskill Hospital on Lower South Street, now Waterview Estates

What better way to highlight that legacy than by honoring Dr. John McGurty, Jr.  for all he has achieved with both his local family practice and as the Director of Emergency Medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital? Starting with John’s dad, Dr. John McGurty, Sr. their Irish name has been associated with medical services in Peekskill for much of the last century to current days. If that doesn’t place the McGurty’s in the thick of local history, what does?

John and his sister, Mary Ellen, grew up a few doors away from the Herrick House, which houses the Peekskill Museum.  The McGurty’s classic Second French Empire Italianate home was built in 1885 and sits just opposite the Assumption Church rectory at 136 Union Avenue.  The home required major renovations and Anita Creem’s dad, Ferdinand (Frenchy) LaPointe, came to their rescue. LaPointe was a master craftsman, who renovated one side of the home to be the doctor’s offices, including a separate entrance and sound proofing the rooms for patient/doctor privacy.  The restorations paid off and the home now proudly sports one of the oval Historic Preservation Awards given by the Peekskill Museum.

Most of John’s recollections of growing up in Peekskill are from the late 50s, 60s and early 70’s, especially of living near his grade school at the Assumption Church and so close to all the excitement of a bustling downtown Peekskill.  He remembers with warmth all the resources of his neighborhood and how he strolled down the street to the Modern Bakery or over to the Paramount or Tuller’s, Kittinger’s or South Street Stationary. Visions of Skolsky’s and Rosoff’s came readily to mind.  As one neighborhood memory after another tumbled fourth, John characterized those times as “magical, memorable and mystical” and a special time to grow up.

Skolsky’s on North Division Street sold greeting cards, toys and gifts.

He remembered zipping over to Burns’ Market on Second Street for bread or milk  or to pick up some meat from Emerson, the butcher in the market.  His musings had him recognizing that that kind of close neighborliness, an atmosphere of a Norman Rockwell landscape, has slipped away somewhat. Nevertheless, John still has high hopes for the future of Peekskill and recognizes that new, young families are coming and embracing the more personable neighborly moments that Peekskill still has to share.  There still is a cozy feeling of “home” when you’re stopping for a coffee or listening to some music on Restaurant Row or Esther Place.

John recalled his first foray into the world of employment in Peekskill.  From high school right through the first two years of his residency in Syracuse, John could be seen behind the wheel of an old checkered cab as he delivered flowers for Hollywood Florist. Owners Larry, Gabe and Nick DiRubbo had a checkered cab (not yellow) with a flipped-up seat in the back, which came in handy for deliveries.  And he made deliveries all over the area, including up into Garrison and one time right up to the Osborne castle. The Osbornes must have recognized John as an up-and-coming community member, as they invited him in and gave him a personal tour of the beautiful view of the Hudson River and West Point from their living room windows.

He was particularly busy with the Hollywood florist after school and during the Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations and recalls that Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day were also busy times.  He related that the tips were usually pretty good, but sometimes people received unexpected deliveries and weren’t so ready with the cash.  He also learned that sometimes they would open the door with their dog ready to leap out and greet the visitor, so he learned the trick of keeping his foot against the door if he heard a dog barking incessantly inside and suggesting to the owner that they take control of the dog, before they open the door all the way.  He certainly treated lots of dog bites during his years of practice,  but at least he didn’t suffer from any during his years of delivering flowers.

Growing up in a home with his father providing endless medical services, both at the house and out in the community, John was keenly aware that “My father was a very fine man, a very respected man.”

A young John McGurty drawing attention to a traffic safety campaign when school opens.

There were occasions when John got to see his father in action at the home office or on a house call or when he would respond with his dad to an emergency. “I realized that he was helping mankind in a big, big way.  I was touched and moved by that and it had an enormous influence on me.”  That example was “a major influence on my going into medicine.”  When asked if John ever felt his parents had an expectation of his future career choices, he was very quick to reply “Never. There was no pressure. Not at all. Our parents let us know that they expected us to find meaningful careers, which would make us happy.”

And there is no doubting that Dr. and Mrs. McGurty, Sr. were proud to see both their children chose careers which allowed them to give back to the community in significant ways. In an era when private medical practices were being phased out, John bravely established his own medical practice in the early 1980’s and has also been an important staff member at New York-Presbyterian/Hudson Valley Hospital, especially serving as the Director of Emergency Medicine from 1996-2003.

Dr. McGurty with city officials and Santa at the former firehouse on Washington Street. He’s third from left, wearing the tie.

He’s also served as a New York State Police doctor, physician to City of Peekskill Fire Department and medical advisor to the Peekskill Ambulance Corps. In addition, he helped establish the Cortlandt/Peekskill Regional Paramedics, and stays involved with their training and other needs. Currently he works as the Director of Medical Services at Bedford Women’s Correctional Facility.

John and his wife, Kathy, live about one mile from the old homestead on Union Avenue and from the charming little building on South Division Street which houses the family practice he began. They have three daughters; Jennifer, Jessica and Katie.  The first two were born in Syracuse, during his residency years and Katie was born at a Naval Hospital, when John was serving on active duty.

What influenced him to return to Peekskill after his medical school and residency years?  He thought for a moment and then reflected that they wanted their children to experience times with their grandparents and he wanted his parents to have time with his children. I know that those hopes were realized.  I remember when Grandmother McGurty would visit the Field Library Children’s Department always looking elegant and surrounded by her little flock of granddaughters. I suspect that the granddaughters may even have tagged along on some of Mrs. McGurty’s neighborhood clean-up tours.  She was a big supporter of the Peekskill Museum and showed it in many ways, including picking up any litter.

“The decision to settle in Peekskill worked out so well,” John related.  Dr. Ralph Billington was ready to sell his building on South Division Street, which had previously been the practice of Dr. Charles Sweet and which was built sometime in the mid-1800’s. “I was involved with the community and emergency services” and even had some duty ties to Camp Smith.

In case you are led to believe that Dr. McGurty has had a very geographically narrow life, think again.  Not too many years ago, John retired from the Navy, after serving for 39 years.  He had a tour of Iraq in 2005, Afghanistan in 2009, spent eight years overseeing the medical care delivery systems for all Navy and Marine personnel in combat and combat related zones, has been stationed in Germany, New Orleans and countless other places around the globe.

I suspect that John’s visit to Osborne Castle delivering flowers may have influenced the choice of his family home at the top of St. Mary’s Street.  John and Kathy probably fell in love with the Hudson River vistas and just like his parents did before them, decided to tackle the renovations to make the former parsonage of St. Mary’s Convent their family home.  They raised their daughters there and now their grandchildren come to visit and get to know them.  I’m guessing that those grandchildren get as big a kick out of seeing their grandfather jogging down St. Mary’s Street with his trusty dog tagging along, as all the folks in downtown Peekskill do when he dashes by.

The former parsonage of St. Mary’s Convent is now home to the McGurty’s.

And I’m hopeful that many of us will jump at the chance to honor all that Dr. John McGurty, Jr. has done for Peekskill and the country by joining the gala festivities in support of the Peekskill Museum. Tickets are $100 and available through the website or the museum’s Facebook page.  Or contact the museum at [email protected] Donations are also welcome and may be sent to Peekskill Museum, 124 Union Avenue, Peekskill, NY 10566.

Columnist Sally Bentley occasionally writes a feature personality story incorporating the best of her Back in The Day musings. A Peekskill native, Bentley spent her career directing the children’s room of The Field Library and continues her involvement with the community through the Garden Club of Peekskill.

You’ll find stories about Peekskill people and their lives in the Peekskill Herald. These stories create community. Communities where people know one another leads to communities where people care about each other and make for a more resilient place. Support this type of community journalism here.