By Arthur Cotterell
Dr. John L. Meeker, a man who was born just after the Civil War, came back to Summit after service in World War I and served the community for nearly a half century. Early in his career he went about the city by horse and buggy, charged a dollar or two for a house visit and seventy-five cents for an office visit, eventually graduated to a gold Cadillac and became a beloved legend in his own city.
John Meeker was born in 1868 on the Meeker Farm on the Westline, then known as Turkey, later to become New Providence. He was the tenth generation of his family in this country, the first Meekers having come to this country from England to Massachusetts in 1639. The family came to New Jersey from Massachusetts in 1665. Dr. Meeker's father, Captain William F. Meeker, served in the Civil War on the staff of General Ben Butler, returned to New Jersey after the war, married and had two sons, Frank and John.
John was over thirty years of age when he decided to undertake the study of medicine. He had been working at a Newark bank to save money for his education when he decided to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Frank, who had already become a noted ear, nose, and throat specialist. John's attitude was "if Frank could do it then so could I." He graduated from the Baltimore Medical School (now the University of Mary- land) in 1903 and went on to serve his internship at Maryland General Hospital in Baltimore.
His early medical career in Watkins, New York, was interrupted when the United States was about to enter World War I. He enlisted in the Army before the country had entered the war, quickly rising to the rank of Captain. Captain Meeker was the Commanding Officer of a United States Base Hospital in Marseille, France, with hospital coverage extending from Italy to Spain. Dr. Meeker remained in the Army Reserves after the war, rising to the rank of Major. Very proud of his service to his country, he remained a member of the American Legion Summit Post 138 during his long life in the city.
Establishing his practice in Summit in 1921 he began with his horse and buggy trips about the town to make house visits to his sick patients. Remember those early house visits were a dollar or two; if you could get out to the doctor's office it would only cost you seventy-five cents!!! During this time Dr. Meeker was a good friend and colleague of Dr. William H. Lawrence, Jr., the founder of Overlook Hospital. He was active on the staff of the hospital for many years.
Dr. Meeker became a legend in Summit, practicing medicine for nearly a half-century. As the Summit Herald said about him in an article written in 1968, he was "slender, tall and erect, with twinkling blue eyes, beloved by all who know him for his warmth and wit." He was a familiar figure about town, and many of the people he encountered were those he had brought into the world during his long career. In 1965, at the age of ninety-seven, Dr. Meeker gave up his last patient, while at the same time giving up his driver's license. It had truly been a career from "horse and buggy to his gold Cadillac."
At a dinner given in honor of his 100th birthday in 1968 Dr. Meeker gave some interesting comments regarding what he attributed his longevity to. He always ate a hearty breakfast - half a grapefruit, oatmeal with cream and sugar, buttered toast and eggs. He would have his dinner at midday with just a light snack at night. When he was asked at the dinner if he liked a drink, he said: "I do like a Manhattan in the evening. In fact, a friend asked me if two would be too many, and I told him,no, too many Manhattans would be just enough." Noble answers for a man celebrating his 100th birthday.
Dr. Meeker's wife, Louise H. Meeker, passed away on January 20th, 1963, at the age of 90. The couple had been married for 58 years.
On Sunday, October 28th, 1973, Dr. John Meeker passed away at the Veterans Administration Hospital, Lyons. He would have been 105 years old seven weeks later on Christmas Eve. He was believed to be the oldest resident in the Summit area. He was a man known and loved by many here in Summit, a man who made many contributions to his community and his country.