Dr. Melvin Dyster leaves lasting legacy in Falls

Rick Pfeiffer, Niagara Gazette, Niagara Falls, N.Y.
·4 min read

Apr. 16—In the grey and drizzle of late Thursday afternoon, former Falls Mayor Paul Dyster stood in the study of his father, Dr. Melvin Dyster, and looked around.

There was a "Certificate of Appreciation" from President Bill Clinton. "I don't think I've ever noticed that before," Dyster mused.

In another corner was an inscribed picture from jazz music legend Ella Fitzgerald. "He must have done something for her," Dyster speculated.

And then he glanced over to a large framed front page of the Niagara Gazette, hanging on a wall of the study. The headline read: "LANDSLIDE!" and below it was a picture of Dyster and his dad, taken the night that Paul was first elected mayor of Niagara Falls.

It was a room full of memories, a reflection of a life well lived.

"He had a great life," Paul Dyster said. "He wanted to die at home and God granted him that wish."

Surrounded by his family, Dr. Melvin B. Dyster passed away peacefully on Tuesday. He was 93.

He was known variously as Doc Dyster, the Doc, and, more formally, as Dr. Dyster to friends and patients. But he was Papa Mel to his large group grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Born in the Falls on Sept. 18, 1927, he was the son of the late Bert and Madeline Dyster. On Oct. 3, 1953, he married Mary Catherine (Toohill) Dyster and together they raised 10 children in the Falls.

His well-known name around town was sometimes a challenge for his kids to deal with.

"I think it was intimidating at times. You are Dr. Dyster's son or daughter and that came with expectations," Paul Dyster said with a laugh. "I'm not sure some of us, in our teen years, always met those (expectations)."

Raising 10 children took Mary Dyster away from her career as a nurse, but she became involved instead with children's education. Her husband was always at her side.

"He was devoted to my mom and he had all these wonderful plans," Paul Dyster said. "He was lost when she passed away."

But after his wife's death in January 1999, his family said Dr. Dyster found "a way to grow in his work" and his commitment to family medicine.

"He always used to say that the best specialty is family practice, because you take care of the whole family. And I agreed with him," said Dr. Komal Chandan, who practiced medicine and taught alongside Dr. Dyster at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center's Family Practice Training Program. "The way he conducted himself, it was an example for young doctors to learn how to treat patients and how to treat people."

Paul Dyster said his dad felt family medicine was important because a doctor was "a member of you family." A belief exemplified by Dr. Dyster's insistence on making house calls to patients well into his 80s.

"He felt it was important to understand how people were living," his son said. "He felt that every person had a duty to contribute to the community. That everyone had a special gift from God and it was your duty to give it back."

As the founder of the Memorial training program, Dr. Dyster told others he was committed to "growing new doctors."

"He knew Niagara Falls would face a shortage of family physicians," Memorial Medical Center President and CEO Joseph Ruffolo said. "He wanted to ensure the area would have a supply of family care doctors."

More than 200 family care physicians have come out of the program Dyster founded. Some have stayed in the Western New York area to practice, while others have spread out across the country.

"When you think about how many patients those doctors have served in their careers, it's not a stretch to think that (Dr. Dyster) has directly or indirectly touched the lives of half a million people," Ruffolo said.

His family also estimated that Dr Dyster delivered or assisted in the delivery of more than 5,000 babies in the course of his career. Paul Dyster said that was a proud legacy for his father.

"He wanted doctors who would be dedicated to the profession," Paul Dyster said. "Ones who cared more about serving the community than making money."

Ruffolo said Dyster's dad was a shining example of putting the Falls community first.

"He was well-known due his passion and dedication to the poor and unfortunate," Ruffolo said. "He probably provided more free care than he was ever paid for. He would pay for the medications of patients who (otherwise) couldn't afford them. He was a voice for those who had no voice. If anyone should be a saint, it was Dr. Mel Dyster."

Chandan recalled how Dr. Dyster's generosity and spirit was regularly on display both with the young doctors that he taught and the patients he cared for.

"He was a wonderful man. He put all the residents first," Chandan said. "He was kind, very fair, very truthful. He never hurried and gave people time. He was always available. He was a good man from A to Z."