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Grace: Even as Omaha-born doctor Michael Metz, 63, fought terminal cancer, he 'lived life to the full'

Grace: Even as Omaha-born doctor Michael Metz, 63, fought terminal cancer, he 'lived life to the full'

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Even as his terminal disease was heading toward its predictable end, an Omaha-born doctor living on the other side of the globe was not dying. Dr. Michael Metz continued to … live.

He bought a new red convertible to replace his old red convertible. He redid his kitchen in his adopted city of Adelaide, on the southern coast of Australia. He rode his beloved bicycles. As the cancer spread from his lungs to his bones and brain, forcing the 63-year-old into early retirement, Metz still took medical calls, which astonished his sister, Stephanie O’Keefe.

O’Keefe visited her brother in the weeks before he died and helped plan one of his two funerals. The first was held in Adelaide in October. The second funeral will be held in Omaha on Friday.

“He just accepted it so beautifully. He didn’t rail against it,” O’Keefe said, of Metz’s then-pending death. “When I said goodbye to him, he said, ‘Well. We’ll see where this goes.’ He wasn’t morose.”

Metz died of complications from lung cancer at St. Andrew’s Hospital in Adelaide on Oct. 2. The clinical biochemist and chemical pathologist left behind three adult children, patients he had befriended and a bevy of colleagues and friends who in emails collected by O’Keefe described Metz as gentle, kind and warm-hearted.

“One of life’s true gentlemen,” wrote Peter Sharp, a senior laboratory scientist at Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, where Metz worked.

“Always cheerful,” wrote Yee Khong, professor of perinatal histopathology there.

“Such a lovely man, always with a smile,” wrote Liz Thompson, who works in clinical genetics.

Dr. Bill Hague, a professor of obstetric medicine, was both a colleague and close friend of Metz’s and traveled to Omaha for his funeral. Hague, born in Hong Kong and English by descent, said the pair shared the experience of being ex-pats along with loves of music, good food, good drink and a desire to help.

Hague said Metz had established himself in Adelaide as an adviser to other physicians on biochemical problems that arose in expectant mothers and infants and children. One of Metz’s specialties was high cholesterol, which made Metz a leading consultant around Australia and internationally. Metz also had a particular interest in his patients.

“He cared for people in an extraordinary way,” Hague said. “And he was just a lovely man to work with. Very humble. Not pushy. But my goodness, he knew stuff, and he was just great to talk to and great to gnaw over clinical problems with.”

Hague was with Metz when he died and echoed the observation that Metz did enjoy his life even at the end.

“He loved life. He was full of life. He was grateful to God for his life,” Hague said. “He just lived life to the full.”

Metz’s Omaha funeral marks a homecoming of sorts for a globetrotting man whose curiosity about the world and desire to serve others took him to poor communities in the United States and beyond.

He was the youngest of seven Metz children raised in Omaha and the first of them to die. There is an 18-year gap between Michael and his oldest sibling, Gwen Neff of Colorado. There is a five-year gap between Michael and the sibling next closest to him in age, O’Keefe. His other siblings are: Mary Rae Gibbons, Anthony Metz and Kathy Trenolone, all of Omaha, and Dr. Philip Metz of Colorado.

Despite age gaps that made Michael sometimes complain that he felt like an only child, and the geographic distance later on, he held his family dear and requested an interment in Omaha. His second funeral will be held at the church of his childhood, St. Margaret Mary, 6116 Dodge St.

Following the 10 a.m. Mass Friday, Metz will be buried in a family plot at Calvary Cemetery near his late parents, Roman and Gwanetha.

“One thing I have been struck with is how strong his sense of home and Omaha and roots here are, how important they were to him,” said O’Keefe, who took three trips to Australia in the past year, the third to attend her brother’s first funeral in Adelaide.

Michael Patrick Metz grew up in a home brother Anthony now owns near 55th and Dodge Streets. He attended St. Margaret Mary Catholic School. He attended Creighton Prep, Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and finished high school and college early. He graduated from medical school at the University of Nebraska in 1978 and specialized first in pediatrics.

His sisters Gwen and Stephanie remembered Metz as being smart, funny and a touch rebellious. He loved to read and even considered being a literature or history professor but, urged by his parents, studied medicine. His medical training took him to New Orleans, Louisiana’s Cajun country and Cincinnati, where he met his former wife, Jackie, who was from Australia.

Metz served on mission-style trips to Alaska, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and St. Lucia. The couple wound up back in Australia and raised their daughters Libby and Evangeline and son Jamie there. He always said his greatest accomplishments were his children.

Daughter Libby said her father was her biggest advocate and supporter and she watched how his love “allowed people around him to blossom and become the best version of themselves.”

O’Keefe said it was hard having her brother that far away from the rest of the clan. She said her brother was a devoted son and sibling who got back home as much as he could, especially as their mother aged. Gwanetha Metz died in 2014 at age 101.

Her brother got much less time to live. But O’Keefe said she is consoled to think of how Michael Metz spent the time he had.

He was fun to be around. He had a smile that was “quick, ready.” He drew simple pleasure from what was around him: work, friends, the beach. He even, she said, flew kites.

Notable Omaha-area deaths of 2018

A look back at some of those from the Omaha area who died in 2018.

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“She’s been an amazing advocate for children,” said Benjamin Gray, a review specialist with the Nebraska Foster Care Review Office. “Rosemary helped me to always maintain a perspective of aspiration — to continue to question whether what we were being told was the best the system could do.”, 402-444-1136

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There is evidence, plenty, that we persist through dark times. That humanity always finds a light and claws toward that light. And even if it’s hard, don’t we all sustain each other by kindling that hope in various ways, by searching out symbols to carry us forward?

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