Glen Arbor’s Doc Houghton passes on

From staff reports

Longtime Glen Arbor physician Matthew Houghton passed away early Sunday morning, his family confirmed. Scroll down for the full obituary, and details about a memorial service.

Houghton’s patients received the sudden and sad news in March that “Doc” Houghton was closing his practice, effective March 10 — “due to sudden personal health changes on March 1,” Houghton wrote in a letter to patients.

“I would like to thank you for the trust you have given me over the past 40 plus years as your physician,” wrote Houghton. “Caring for you and your family has been an honor for both my staff and myself. … It has been an honor to serve you and this wonderful community, and I thank you deeply. I wish you all good health and happiness.”

Houghton moved his practice to the Glen Arbor Medical Arts building 15 years ago after 28 years in Empire.

The June 9, 1999 edition of the Glen Arbor Sun ran a front-page feature story written by Jenny Robertson and titled “Glen Arbor gets a ‘Doc’!”, which welcomed Houghton’s arrival in Glen Arbor.

Here’s an excerpt (and read the full story here):

As a small-town doctor, Houghton has seen things few hospital-based physicians will ever see. For instance, he’s treated dogs, addressing everything from porcupine quills and hurt paws to possible poisoning. He also delivered a two-weeks premature baby in his Empire office. Because her labor arrived ahead of schedule, the mother was just coming in for a checkup. By the time she got to the office, the baby’s head was already visible, and Doc Houghton’s assistant Dave Graddup, now of the North Flight Ground Division, barely had time to run to the hardware store for big plastic tubs and blankets before a beautiful health baby was born. Mother and child never went to the hospital.

“We basically have two practices here; one as a mini-emergency ward, one as a family practice,” Houghton says. These are, however, definitely not the only two services Houghton supplies to the community. Houghton has been the medical examiner for Leelanau County since 1975, and has recently taken on this responsibility for Grand Traverse County as well. “I see this really as being a guardian of the public health,” he says. “My job is to make sure that the cause of death isn’t something that could put the entire community at risk.” He has been the medical consultant for Glen Lake High School sports teams for 26 years, and has great memories of traveling to state championships with the teams. Houghton’s practice also services as a training facility for medical students, from first-year students to recent graduates from the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State.


Matthew Amos Houghton Jr., D.O., 72, of Glen Arbor, Michigan, passed away peacefully at Munson Medical Center Hospice House early Sunday morning, August 31, 2014, after a determined battle with cancer. His beloved wife Barbara Ann (“Barbie”) was by his side. Matthew was born on May 17, 1942, at Jennings Hospital in Detroit to the late Matthew A. Houghton Sr., D.O., and Jane Elizabeth Hunter Houghton. He completed his Bachelor’s degree in Classical Music at Olivet College and pursued his medical degree from A.T. Still College of Osteopathy and Surgery in Kirksville, Missouri, graduating in 1969.

Throughout Matthew’s childhood, the Houghton family spent summers at Peppler’s Birchwood on Big Glen Lake. During those summers, he lived on the docks of Glen Craft Marina and was mentored by Phil Krull. In October, 1970, his love of the Leelanau Peninsula cinched his decision to accept a position as the Director of Medical Education and Full Time Emergency Room Physician at the Traverse City Osteopathic Hospital. He established the Empire Clinic with the Detwiler Drugstore in Empire, MI on June 12, 1971 and married the former Barbara Ann Beckett of Traverse City the following October 1, 1971. Matthew, Barbara and German Shepherds soon landed at Hocton Meade, their beloved Miller Hill home.

Dr. Houghton celebrated the 40th anniversary of his country family/sports medicine/emergency practice in 2011. Many of his patients have known no other doctor in their lives. The medical trio of Doc Houghton, Office Manager Marion Harriger and Receptionist/Billings Manager Vicki Finstad has been a constant in their lives. For both local residents and area visitors, a visit to Doc’s
office could be counted on to include comprehensive medical services at all hours and so much more. Patients traveled long distances to hobble in, receive an osteopathic manipulative treatment from Doc and leave the office erect and smiling. Often, perfectly healthy patients stopped by to chat or drop off fresh corn. Recently, a bag of beef jerky was left on the office door knob.

Doc Houghton was instinctively positive and encouraging. He listened. Most likely, the extra time he spent with each of his patients was not cost efficient. That was not how he measured his life. A lifelong patient recently whispered into his ear, “Doc, thank you for believing in me when no one else did.”

Dr. Houghton did not limit his physician’s duties to his private medical practice. He led the county emergency training drills, bringing realism to disaster exercises that could become life savers. He dragged himself out of bed in the middle of many nights to perform his duties as the Leelanau County (41 years), Benzie County (12 years) and Grand Traverse County (14 years) Chief
Medical Examiner. His years of expertise created a high level of professionalism during county Sheriff Office investigations into unnatural and unexplained deaths. On the witness stand, he provided a steady voice grounded by medical science.

“Gentlemen (Ladies), let’s all be careful out there.” Generations of Glen Lake student athletes are familiar with those words spoken by ‘Doc Houghton.’ He was a fixture on basketball court (20 years) and football field sidelines (43 years). After Title IX was enacted, Matthew was the proud team physician of the 1978 Lady Lakers who won the Girls State Basketball Championship. The Michigan Legislature paid tribute to Matthew in 1979 for initiating the “Glen Lake Plan” which assigned specific responsibilities to each member of a coaching staff in the event of injury to an athlete. The Plan was published to national acclaim in the American School Board Journal and has been adopted by high schools throughout the nation.

A gifted teacher like his father, Matthew promoted lifelong staff development, senior citizen health education and medical/safety learning opportunities for high school students. Patients left Matthew’s office clear on how to take their meds. He developed water rescue training for the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department and advanced life support training for the Leelanau County EMT-S. As an Associate Clinical Professor of the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Wayne State University College of Medicine, hundreds of medical interns and residents rotated through Dr. Houghton’s Empire and Glen Arbor Medical Arts offices, leaving with enhanced understanding of the diverse demands of country practice and the power of patient-physician connections.

Dr. Houghton gave away his time -and loved every minute of it. He offered his expertise and leadership skills as the Medical Director of the Michigan Special Olympics (1986-2008), the Medical Director of the North American Vasalopett and U.S. Ski Association (1980-2001) and Director of the Northwest Michigan Sports Medicine Clinic (1978-2013) where he provided ongoing technical assistance to 10 northern Michigan high schools. He was a frequently called upon consultant to organizations as varied as the National Transportation Safety Board, the Union
Internationale Motonautique, the Central Military Command of the United Arab Emirates, the USAF Capsule Recovery Team (Cape Canaveral, Florida), the Navy Seals and the Federation of Italian Motorboating.

At the age of four, Matthew’s mother took him to the boat racing ‘pits’ of the Unlimited Hydroplanes docked at the Roostertail of Belle Isle for the Gold Cup Race. He fell in love. He taught himself every aspect of power boat racing and the dynamic variables of craft design, racer skills, speed, weather, pit crew preparedness and more. It is not surprising then, that after the tragic offshore boat racing death of Mark Lavin in 1987; the Lavin family founded the Mark Lavin Memorial Offshore Medical and Safety Foundation, Inc. and asked Dr. Houghton to be the Foundation Director. During the past 26 years, the Foundation has provided training on Medical Safety protocols to members of offshore racing communities in 26 countries. The Foundation’s collaboration with engineers, military rescue teams, helicopter pilots, trauma specialists and water craft designers, has resulted in the design and manufacture of safer hulls, cockpits, helmets and personal safety devices. Every racer is now required to complete the “Dunker” extrication exercise (successfully). The presence of a skilled rescue team hovering above in helicopters is the accepted norm. Untold numbers of injuries and deaths have been avoided as a result of the Foundation’s work.

Dr. Matt was fun. One of his answering machine messages began with, “You have reached the phone of the medical examiner. If you are dead, call 911…” He loved a Sunday afternoon drive in his guards red Porsche 911 Targa with a whale tail. He was one with canines – including a fair number who were grateful for his skill in removing porcupine quills. And many remember the silent gorilla circulating among the crowd at the 1979 Glen Lake PTA carnival. The gorilla’s
identity was always a mystery.

Several weeks ago Matthew stated, “I love my life. I’ve had a heck of a life.” Yes, Doc Houghton you have. And we are all the better for it.

Matthew is survived by his wife Barbara Ann Beckett Houghton of Glen Arbor, sister Nancy Jane Elizabeth Hunter Houghton, D.O., (Cindy) of Riverview, father-in-law James J. Beckett of Traverse City, godmother and aunt Estelle Johnson, formerly of Grosse Pointe, sister-in-law Carolyn M. Beckett (Peter Coppelman) of Traverse City and formerly of Alexandria, VA, sister-in-law Janice Beckett Duddles (Steven) of Big Rapids, brother-in-law James Robert Beckett (Nora) of Harrodsburg, KY, nephew Alexander Beckett Coppelman (Brandi Dickey) of Annandale, VA, niece Elizabeth Beckett Coppelman D.V.M. of St. Paul, MN, niece Stacy McElwaney (David), great nephew Adam Ralph Houghton McElwaney all of Trenton, niece Jennifer Craanen of Riverview, and god daughter, Halley Buchan Brandsen (Nate) of Traverse City.

He is also survived by his beloved office team Marion Harriger of Empire and Vicki Finstad of Maple City who have been by his side for 35 years; Cindy Geiser, C. N.P. and Jamie Warnes, R.N. (Diener for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner). Additionally, Doctor Matt is survived by the five remaining members of the Angel Team for the Mark Lavin Medical Safety Foundation, David Grattopp, firefighter paramedic, of Empire and Traverse City, Steven Dillon, paramedic, of Ann Arbor, Gary L. McGhee, firefighter paramedic, of Suttons Bay, Edward Haughn, D.O., of Traverse City and Portage, and Craig Dunham, paramedic, Ann Arbor.

Doc Houghton is preceded in death by his mother Jane Hunter Houghton, father, Matthew A. Houghton Sr., D.O., of Grosse Pointe, and mother-in-law Dorothy Alice Beckett of Traverse City. Barbara and family members wish to thank the extraordinary staff members of Munson Medical Center, Orchard Creek, Integrity Home Health Care, Great Lakes Therapy House Call and the Munson Hospice House. The messages and prayers from patients, friends and professional colleagues around the world sustain us. A viewing will take place on Saturday, September 13, from 6:00-9:00pm at Reynolds-Jonkhoff Funeral Home in Traverse City. The memorial service to honor Matthew’s life will be held at 2:00pm on Sunday, September 14, 2014, in the gymnasium of Glen Lake High School followed by a gathering at the Glen Arbor Township Hall.

Memorial contributions: To advance Matthew’s aspirations, Dr. Matt’s Dreams Account (State Savings Bank, c/o Shirley Lawson, P.O. Box 476, Empire, MI 49630); to honor his love of animals, The Leader Dogs for the Blind (1039 S. Rochester Road, Rochester Hills, MI 48307); to ensure the safety of Doc’s hometown, Glen Arbor Fire and Rescue Association (P.O. Box 417, Glen arbor, MI
49636) Family contact information: P.O. Box 116, Glen Arbor, MI 49636 Please visit to share your thoughts and memories with the family. The family is being served by Reynolds Jonkhoff Funeral Home and Cremation Services.