On the Scene with Dr. Philip McNamee
Dr. Philip McNamee will be featured in a new role in “The Nutcracker,” which opens Friday at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.
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For more than 30 years Dr. Philip McNamee’s patients knew him as a miracle-maker, an in vitro fertilization specialist who helped hundreds of couples unable to conceive to have children. And, for almost 15 years, island ballet fans knew him as the comical “dancing grandfather” in Ballet Hawaii’s annual production of “The Nutcracker.” McNamee’s spotlight moment came deep in Act I playing an elderly gentleman who watched younger men strut their stuff and then stepped forward to dance a sprightly jig — only to discover that his back wasn’t as young as it used to be. McNamee’s convincing performance as a dancer and as an actor always connected with the audience.
The “dancing grandfather” character was written out of the story two years ago but McNamee, 83, will be returning to the show in a new role when Ballet Hawaii’s 2019 production of “The Nutcracker” opens Friday evening at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.
How did you become Ballet Hawaii’s “dancing grandfather?”
I was on the board (of Ballet Hawaii). We’d had several people doing it before, but they got tired or they got hurt and then someone suggested I give it a try. They liked what I did — jumping around — and so I did it for 13 years. Now I’m starting back (in the show) but I won’t be doing the dancing. I’ll be the “other grandfather” who’s not doing as much, and Carolyn Berry Wilson will be my “grandmother.”
When you were asked to come back were you concerned about being able to dance the way you had danced all those years?
I thought I could, but they decided there were going to be two sets of grandparents. The other set of grandparents is going to be doing something else, and we’re going to be carrying some things, but nothing strenuous. Of course the dance I did wasn’t exactly strenuous.
Did your IVF patients know that you were also Ballet Hawaii’s comical dancing grandfather?
Some did. I got a lot of comments, there’s no question about that.
Going back to the beginning of your medical career, you graduated from the Stanford University School of Medicine in 1962 and did your residency at Tripler Army Medical Center in the mid-1960s. How did you decide to specialize in IVF?
When we went into in vitro fertilization it was a specialty that was just developing. It was a lot of fun because I was able to get my hands into the development of it, and it turned out to be wonderful for people who wanted to have a baby and couldn’t. A lot of them went through the process and were able to have children. I was able to bring it back to Honolulu and then we got it covered (by health insurance) so people could afford it. We fought for it, and we got HMSA to cover it.
How many children have you helped come into the world?
About 2,000 — including three of my grandchildren and two for my brother and his wife, so for me the process is more than just “wonderful.” (The procedure) is not as difficult as surgery, but the laboratory people have to be really good. A lot of what I did was helped by good laboratory people. It was so rewarding that I didn’t want to leave it, but three years ago when I was 79 I thought it was time.
Now that you’ve retired, what keeps you busy outside of “Nutcracker” season?
I play golf and tennis. I have a singing group — 10 people — we go around to different elderly homes twice a month and practice a couple of times a week just to be sure we’re doing things right. And I’m having a nice time with my wife.