Chapter Eternal: Pittsburgh’s Dr. George Buerger

By Mick Stinelli, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

January 22, 1935- June 16, 2019

George Buerger knew there was always something to learn from those around him. “It didn’t matter who you were, what your background was. He knew he could learn something from you,” Dr. Buerger’s son, Dan, said.

Dr. Buerger was a Pittsburgh pioneer in eye medicine and surgery, a father to three sons, brother of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity and, for over 30 years, the personal ophthalmologist for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He died June 16 in his sleep, surrounded by his family in his home in Churchill. He was 84.

Dr. Buerger was the first doctor in Pittsburgh to specialize in ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgery, concentrating on tear ducts and eyelids. He started the American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery alongside four of his colleagues. The group now boasts over 750 members across 30 countries.

He was also president of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity while an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, and presided over the fraternity’s alumni association after graduating. He obtained his medical degree from George Washington University in 1962.

Though he was busy with his practice and his various responsibilities, Dr. Buerger was always home in time for dinner, and his family traveled to their cabin at Youghiogheny Lake every weekend to retreat from city life.

When Penguins defenseman Dave Burrows fractured a bone around his right eye in 1974, Dr. Buerger was brought in to treat him. The physician stayed with the hockey organization until 2005.

Conversation came easy to Dr. Buerger.

“He was the only doctor who could have two patients on his schedule and still be running behind, because he would talk to the first patient for so long,” Dan Buerger said.

An exchange with a Secret Service member who was attending a Penguins game led to a private tour of the White House for the whole Buerger family.

Eventually, Dan and David Buerger followed their father’s footsteps and both practice ophthalmology in Pittsburgh; their brother Thomas works as a real estate agent in Washington, D.C.

“When my brother and I joined him in practice, it was most definitely one of the highlights of his career,” David Buerger, his oldest son, said.

When the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 1992, George Buerger got his own day with the most coveted trophy in hockey. He took it to the Pittsburgh Blind Association so their members could feel its grooves and etchings.

He was married to his wife, Patricia, for over 60 years. They met in the first grade and grew up down the street from each other in Uniontown. They married in 1958 after graduating college. They had an “old fashioned” relationship, David Buerger said, and they did everything together.

When he retired, he spent much of his time with his seven grandchildren.

“He developed such a unique relationship with his grandkids,” David Buerger said.

He would spend entire days with them at his Youghiogheny Lake cabin, taking them fishing, boating and playing cards, he said.

“I’m just amazed at how much he did,” Dan Buerger said. “I always said to my patients, ‘It took two of us to fill his shoes.’”

George Buerger is survived by his three sons and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service for Dr. Buerger will be held at noon  July 20 at Calvary Episcopal Church, 315 Shady Ave., Pittsburgh 15206. In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Dr. George F. Buerger, Jr. may be made to ASORPS Foundation at PO Box 916048, Longwood, Fla. 32791.