Hank Mergenthaler, a longtime resident of Westport and Naples, Florida, died July 30 at home. He was 83.
Hank Mergenthaler: noted heart surgeon. Contributed photo
He grew up in Sayville, Long Island where he learned to sail at the age 12. He won midget and junior championships on Great South Bay as a youth. His family moved to Garden City, New York in 1950 where he met Janet Rowden who later became his bride of 62 years.
After graduating Tufts University in 1956, he completed his medical and surgical training at NYU School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital from 1957 to 1966. Hank and Janet finally settled in Westport in 1968 where they raised their five children.
He became a celebrated heart surgeon when he performed the first-ever coronary bypass operation in New England in 1969 at Bridgeport Hospital.
He saved countless lives as a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon, serving patients of St. Vincent, Bridgeport, Park City, Milford, Norwalk and Greenwich hospitals until he retired. He loved his job.
While a young surgeon, he rekindled his love of sailboat racing when he bought and restored an old Blue Jay sailboat.
Before long he joined Cedar Point Yacht Club’s Atlantic Class where he made lifelong friendships and continued competitive sailboat racing until 2017.
He was a keen sailor, competing in many regattas both locally and internationally, including winning the Atlantic National Championship in 1979.
In winter months, Hank and his family learned to ski at Stratton Mountain, where he purchased one of the first slope-side homes. Stratton remained a beloved family getaway for several generations.
He cherished ski trips with beloved friends and family to St. Anton and Verbier, as well as Vail, Beaver Creek and many others.
He is survived by his wife, Janet, and one brother, Peter. He was predeceased by his older brother Bill and his parents, William and Helen Mergenthaler. He also leaves his five children: Tracy (and Malcolm) Robinson of Fairfield; Heidi (and Craig) Cinder of Fairfield; Gretchen Mergenthaler (and Haden Peterson) of Inwood, New York; Eric (and Lynn) Mergenthaler of Fairfield; and Karl (and Stephanie) Mergenthaler of Westport. Papa Hank also leaves 12 grandchildren and his best companion, Otis.
There will be an informal celebration of Hank’s life on Sunday Aug. 11 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Cedar Point Yacht Club, Bluff Point, Westport.
The family issued the following addendum:
Hank Mergenthaler Celebration of Life set for Aug. 11
An informal celebration of life for Dr. Francis “Hank” Mergenthaler — a Westport resident for more than 50 years, renowned heart surgeon, avid sailor, and “Sportsman of Westport” — will be held on Sunday, Aug. 11 at 5 p.m. at Cedar Point Yacht Club. Well-wishers and friends are invited to attend.
Dr. Francis Mergenthaler was a renowned surgeon. Trained at NYU and Bellevue Hospital, he performed the first coronary bypass in New England in 1969. In the mid-80s, he took on another nickname, “The Sailing Surgeon” when the Bridgeport Post chronicled his achievements in a feature story.
In the early 90s, Hank was called to the Intensive Care Unit to operate on Don Imus, the radio and TV personality and former Westport resident. After a relatively minor surgery, my father rode with Imus in an ambulance into New York City.
Imus thought this was all very funny, and mentioned Hank several times on his show in the following week. Hank’s friends jokingly called him “The Surgeon to the Stars.”
Dr. Francis Mergenthaler: “Surgeon to the stars.”Contributed photo
Hank’s true love was sailboat racing, and he competed in regattas around the world. His list of accolades is long- Winner of the Atlantic Nationals in 1979; Winner of the Cedar Point Yacht Club Season Series and all three Commodore’s Cups in 1983; Participant in the Regates Royales in Cannes in 1996; Commodore of The Mayor’s Cup in New York City in 1998. He was honored by the Sportsmen of Westport in 2000. The list goes on.
The Mergenthaler family has lived and thrived in Westport since 1968. All five Mergenthaler children attended Westport public schools and graduated from Staples. Dr. Mergenthaler discussed his life in medicine at many career days, and showed a film of himself performing heart surgery to biology classes at Staples.
Hank had many friends and colorful stories from a life well lived. Hank is survived by his wife, Janet, five children, and 12 grandchildren. Please join us to celebrate his life on Sunday the 11th.