Early in the morning of June 4, Dr. Fred C. Olson left this world after a three-year battle with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia. He died at his home, in the arms of his wife and two sons, following a month of insurmountable complications.
Fred was born August 16, 1949, in Rochester, NY, to Fay (Hazelwood) Olson and Ingwald (Ole) Olson, the second in a family of one daughter and four sons. Fred grew up a child of the 50s and 60s, he roamed with neighborhood friends, threw snowballs and rocks, broke his Dad’s hunting bow trying to string it using a vice, and painted the family car with white house paint. Despite such misadventures, his Mom and Dad provided love and direction. Annual summer car vacations always included a visit to his Dad’s family in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He cherished his childhood and recalled memories often and fondly.
Fred attended Lehigh University starting in 1967, majoring in biology. He went on to earn a PhD and complete postdoctoral research in biochemistry at SUNY Buffalo and subsequently his M.D., also in SUNY Buffalo, in 1981. Fred held a passion for medicine and earning his M.D. was an incredibly proud achievement for his entire family.
From Buffalo, he moved to Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, RI. There he completed his internal medicine residency and served on the staff of the hospital for an additional two years. Fred met his future wife, Dr. Lee Harrison, during his residency and took the biggest leap of his life in marrying and moving west to begin a private practice in internal medicine in Helena, MT, in 1986.
Fred’s first years in Montana were an adjustment but he learned to appreciate this beautiful state, fishing and hunting, floating rivers, and riding horses at the Kelsey family dude ranch in the Madison Range. He was an avid golfer and spent many truly blissful days with his friends Steve Browning and Terry Cosgrove on the course at Green Meadow Country Club, whose beautiful surroundings provided a refuge for contemplation in every season.
Lee and Fred had two sons, Christopher and Patrick, and worked in a medical practice together for 18-years, developing a lifelong friendship with their partner Dr. Ken Eden. After many years caring for his beloved patients, Fred pursued a new challenge in 2001 by moving to medical administration, first serving as the Medicare Medical Director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, then as Chief Medical Officer, and finally as Executive Vice President from 2005-2013.
In 2015 he left retirement to serve as the Interim CEO at St. Peter’s Hospital in Helena. It was the hardest job of his life and the one he was most proud of, helping to steer the hospital towards a new era of stewardship and community service.
Multi-talented, Fred was known for his love of home improvement and cooking. Part engineer, part chef, he could reliably be found excavating the yard or cooking superb meals for his family and friends. He approached each of these endeavors with diligence, whether adding a 10th coat of varnish to a woodworking project or cooking for an entire wedding party.
Fred eventually built a summer home with his brother, Richard, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan – the scene of his father’s upbringing and so many happy childhood memories. The project was a labor of love that brought him closer to his eastern family and their Yooper roots.
Fred was also a quiet person, comfortable with silence, who took pleasure in observation. Whether it was gleaning the habits of the animals he’d see on his daily walks or studying the schedules and cargos on discarded train manifests he’d find next to the tracks by his house. Above all though, Fred was a devoted father and friend, who was universally relied on for his steadiness, humility, warmth, and ability to put others at ease.
The last years of Fred’s life found him creating beautiful furniture and remodeling his house following a bone marrow transplant and ongoing chemotherapy. He lived fully and managed his disease with bravery and grace until the end.
He is survived by his wife, Dr. Lee Harrison; sons: Christopher (Ari Turrentine) and Pat (Joelle Luongo); sister, Susan Fuess (Jay); and brothers: Cliff (Diane), Richard (Martie) Doug (Barb); as well as many nieces and nephews.
Fred and the family wish to thank Dr. Justin Thomas and Dr. Andy Gilbert, their offices, and staff at Bozeman Deaconess and St. Peter’s Hospital infusion clinics for their superb care. A special thank you to Terry Cosgrove, dear friend and mentor, and to Fred’s brother Richard, who kept Fred connected to his East Coast family these last three years.
A celebration of Fred’s life will be held at Green Meadow Country Club on June 18, 2022 at 2:00 p.m.
Memorials may be sent to the Fred C. Olson Education Endowment at St. Peter’s Health, Prickly Pear Land Trust, or to a charity of choice.