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From a very young age, Gerald Mullin wanted to be a doctor.

"It had to do with the fact that he really loved being around people," said his son, Emmett Mullin, of Minneapolis. "He loved taking care of people. It sounds corny, but he excelled at it."

Mullin, 86, a rheumatologist in private practice and a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, died Dec. 13 from the lingering effects of a stroke he suffered in 2010. A longtime resident of Edina, he lived more recently at the Jones-Harrison Residence in Minneapolis.

He practiced at Downtown Internal Medicine in Minneapolis' Medical Arts Building for 36 years, accumulating a long list of patients grateful for his quiet, caring manner.

"He was synonymous with the gentleman physician, and I mean that in the best of all ways — with compassion and intelligence," said Dr. Jon Hallberg, an associate professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota.

Born April 28, 1933, in north Minneapolis, Mullin was a graduate of St. Bridget's Elementary school, St. Thomas Academy, what was then the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul and the U's medical school. While completing his residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, he met his future wife at a New Year's Eve party in 1959.

"My next-door neighbor was having a dinner party, and he invited a few girls to beef up the crowd," recalled Margaret Mullin, who became Mullin's wife of 57 years. "My first impression was interest. I liked him. He was very friendly, outgoing and fun."

The two married in 1962 and lived in Nuremberg, Germany, for two years while Mullin served at the U.S. Army's 20th Station Hospital. Once the couple arrived home in Minnesota, Mullin established a practice in downtown Minneapolis. Hallberg, who later joined the group, said Mullin created a compassionate workplace.

"People who worked in his office were there 10, 15, 20 years, which is unheard of these days," he said. "What a gem of a human being he was."

Mullin also practiced at Smiley's Clinic at the U and taught at the rheumatology department there. For 15 years, he volunteered at the Common Hope project in Antigua, Guatemala, after a colleague from the Central American country asked him to help out.

"It was a labor of love," said Emmett Mullin. Once retired, he mentored medical school students.

He enjoyed tennis, hiking and skiing as well as golf, using clubs he crafted for himself and others in his basement "until the handles started flying off," he wife said, laughing. Mullin read often, mostly novels and books about early 20th-century history and politics — his father, Gerald Mullin Sr., was a state legislator.

Glacier National Park in Montana was a special place of refuge, where the Mullin family camped and hiked for many years. Mullin worked there while in college and kept going back, drawn to its natural beauty.

"He knew the park like the back of his hand and was comfortable in the back country," Emmett Mullin said. He enjoyed canoeing on the Namekagon River in Wisconsin and travel abroad, too.

In addition to his wife and son Emmett, Mullin is survived by a daughter, Mary Donovan, and sons Jerry Mullin and Peter Mullin, all of Minneapolis; sisters Kathleen Gratzek, of Athens, Ga., and Sheila Manley of Edina; a brother, James Mullin of Minneapolis; and 15 grandchildren.

Services have been held.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752

Twitter: @ByJanetMoore