Joseph Lee Garvey, Jr. M.D.

October 22, 2016

Joseph Lee Garvey, Jr. M.D., who was a caregiver in every sense of the word, died October 22, 2016. While Lee's professional achievements are staggering, the light of his life was his family. He married his college sweetheart, Katherine (Kate) Seeberg Garvey, whom he met while he was a student at the University of Notre Dame. He delighted in the close relationships he had with each of his three daughters, Annie Garvey Clarke (Charlie), Caitlin Moira Garvey and Molly Brigid Garvey. His "girls" cherished him in turn. They loved his sense of humor, his insight, his ability to guide without dictating, and the humorous drawings he included on every birthday card. Lee was a complete pushover for his granddaughter, Caroline Elizabeth Clarke, who will turn two on the day he is buried. She was undoubtedly the greatest joy of his later years.

Lee was born May 31, 1957 in Warren, Ohio, and was the son of Joseph Lee and Bernadette Geary Garvey. He graduated from ND in 1979 and did his doctoral and medical studies at the University of Cincinnati. His family moved to Charlotte in '88 when he began his residency in Emergency Medicine at Carolinas Medical Center. Lee elected to stay on at CMC and always referred to it as "the perfect job," although he was glad when the night shifts ended. During his tenure at CMC he served in numerous roles including Director of Resident Research, Director of Emergency Cardiac Care, and most recently Vice-Chairman. In these roles he led vital efforts to improve the early treatment of patients with heart attacks, blood clots in the lung and with severe infections. He also spearheaded novel initiatives to prevent patients from being readmitted to the hospital.

In addition to being an exceptional leader, Lee was also an accomplished educator and scientist. He was a pioneer in the emerging field of emergency medicine, and his work was transformative in the care of acutely ill cardiac patients. Amongst his many contributions to academic emergency medicine, two stand out. The first was the recognition that paramedics could diagnose heart attacks in the field and reliably activate cardiac catheterization teams to open blocked heart arteries within minutes of hospital arrival, saving many lives. Based upon his promotion of paramedics in cardiac care, a second major contribution involved the development of teams that spanned the entire episode of care from emergency dispatch call to emergency hospital treatment, and brought together physicians, hospitals and emergency medical services around systematic and pre-specified regional plans. Lee was revered and respected for these efforts, whether teaching medics in the Mecklenburg EMS Agency (MEDIC) training facility or leading teams of nurses, physicians and hospitals in rural North Carolina, New York City or Germany.

Lee leaves a legacy of great works that continue to touch thousands of lives. He was a founder and lifetime board member of the Society for Chest Pain Centers, the leading cardiac care accreditation organization in the US, applying best practices and quality measurement in over 1,000 hospitals. He co-founded the NC Regional Approach to Cardiovascular Emergencies, a model of coordinated and collaborative emergency cardiac care that treats 10,000 patients per year in North Carolina, and has served as a national and international model of emergency cardiovascular care. He published 44 peer-reviewed manuscripts including the hallmark work on pre-hospital 12-lead electrocardiography programs as part of the National Heart Attack Alert Program of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Most recently, he assumed Chairmanship of the American Heart Association Mission: Lifeline emergency cardiovascular care program and he published the positive results of his collaborative project in 16 metropolitan regions across the US that encompassed 25,000 heart attack patients treated in 400 hospitals by 1,200 EMS agencies over two years, one-quarter of all heart attack patients included in national registries.

Lee's most treasured time as a physician was the two weeks he spent in Waveland, MS after Hurricane Katrina, treating patients in a parking lot. He loved practicing medicine without paperwork and strict protocols. He called it "real emergency medicine." However, he came home not talking about the medicine, but about the people. In his words, "The medicine in a lot of ways was secondary. Every single person had a story, and they were all anxious and willing to share them. Unbelievable stories. I'll eventually have a hard time remembering exactly what the blown down houses/debris looked like, but I expect the images that I will retain will be of the faces of the people I got to meet there." Lee was also deployed with Carolinas MED-1 to Columbus, IN during the flood of 2008 and went with Team Rubicon to Nepal after the April 2015 earthquake.

Perhaps the most striking feature of this magnificent career is that you would learn none of these things from Lee. He would much rather promote and mentor those around him than step even momentarily into the spotlight himself. He would prefer to tell you how much he loved his family, coveted his profession, and valued the ability to make a difference.

His brilliance, his tenacious pursuit of excellence, his passion for teaching both learners and his colleagues, his dedication to community and to those in need, and most important - his eternal commitment to treating every one of his emergency department patients with dignity, respect and compassion will be missed by all. Our patients, our community, and the House of Medicine are all much better off because of Dr. Lee Garvey.

Lee liked to say that he practiced family medicine on the side. Calm, reassuring, a figure of wisdom, gentleness and quick wit, he was the beloved brother of Moira Garvey Apperson (Thomas) of New York, NY, Keelin Garvey O'Neill (James) of Shaker Heights, OH and Michael S. Garvey (Jeanette) of Canfield, OH. His many nieces and nephews have adopted his mantra of "Garvin' around," which means the art of doing nothing - a skill Lee perfected during his time off. Lee was cherished by his in-laws, Bill and Mary Ann Seeberg, who counted him as one of their own. His brother-in-law, Dan Seeberg (Susan), was Lee's college roommate. Brothers-in-law, Mark (Patty), Bill (Paula), Jim (Colleen) and Tom (Mary) and sister-in-law, Gina, will miss him terribly.

Lee Garvey was a quiet, gentle, unassuming man of incredible talents. He was a caring person, a healer, a guide. He enriched our lives. We are blessed to have traveled part of the journey with him.

A funeral Mass will be held on Thursday, October 27 at 10:30 a.m. at Saint Gabriel Catholic Church. The family will receive friends following the service at the church. Interment will be private.

In lieu of flowers, given his passion for research and teaching, Dr. Garvey's family is inviting friends and colleagues to make a donation to the Emergency Medicine Research & Education Fund, c/o Carolinas Healthcare Foundation, 208 East Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203, or online at

Arrangements are in the care of Kenneth Poe Funeral & Cremation Service, 1321 Berkeley Avenue, Charlotte, 704-641-7606. Condolences may be left online at  


Share your memories & condolences


  • Bill Murray

    I know you don't know me but I went to grade school with Lee. The last time I saw him was just after he graduated from high school. I told him that I was going to attend Ohio State and he told me that he was going to attend Notre Dame. I wished him well and I never saw him again until yesterday. He had an amazing life. Life is short, enjoy every moment.


  • Betty Adams Lamborn

    On behalf of Warren John F. Kennedy Class of 1975, we are sad to know we have lost a classmate and friend. Deepest condolences to Lee's family.

    May the choirs of angels come to greet you.
    May they speed you to paradise.
    May the Lord enfold you in His mercy.
    May you find eternal life.

  • Rebecca Covington

    Dr. Garvey will be missed, a prime example of a Man of integrity, who cared for his patients and treated them with dignity and respect . And he was one who made everyone feel, no matter what capacity you worked in , you were important in your role. He truly will be missed . I send my condolences to the family and pray God be with you in your time of sorrow.

  • Abby (Heffelmire) Miller

    Becoming friends with someone as fun as Caitlin in college was a gift, but then meeting her wonderful family was a cherry on top. Dr. Garvey from the very beginning welcomed me right away with encouraging words and a warm smile. When you're in college, your friends become your family and their family becomes part of yours so to hear of his death was extremely saddening and shocking. I feel blessed to have met him and am praying for your whole family. 143!

  • Nancy Whyte

    Dearest Katie,
    I am so sorry, my friend. Lee's kind and gentle way touched so many lives. He truly was a great man. I will always carry the image of him standing on the beach, happy and grinning.

    Words have left me, so I will leave you with a song....I love you always, my bestest of buddies!

    "You've Got A Friend"

    When you're down and troubled and you need a helping hand
    and nothing, whoa, nothing is going right.
    Close your eyes and think of me and soon I will be there
    to brighten up even your darkest nights.

    You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
    I'll come running to see you again.
    Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I'll be there, yeah, yeah,
    you've got a friend.

    If the sky above you should turn dark and full of clouds
    and that old north wind should begin to blow,
    keep your head together and call my name out loud.
    Soon I will be knocking upon your door.
    You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
    I'll come running to see you again.
    Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I'll be there.

    Hey, ain't it good to know that you've got a friend? People can be so cold.
    They'll hurt you and desert you. Well, they'll take your soul if you let them,
    oh yeah, but don't you let them.

    You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
    I'll come running to see you again.
    Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, Lord, I'll be there, yeah, yeah,
    you've got a friend. You've got a friend.
    Ain't it good to know you've got a friend. Ain't it good to know you've got a friend.
    Oh, yeah, yeah, you've got a friend.

  • John Carroll Seeberg

    What a sweet man!
    He wasn't the first to talk, but when he did, he had our attention.
    This past spring, I was down in Charlotte with my Dad (Jim Seeberg) to watch my daughter play softball and UNC Charlotte. We took some time to visit with Bill and Mary Ann and Gina. Katie and Lee had a big party that weekend (Katie, your 60th?), but they still made the time to say hello and have some coffee.
    Precious few moments, but precious. So long Lee.

  • Meggie O.

    Will always remember Uncle Lee's quick chuckle. For all his gentleness, kindness, and patience, a goofball streak was at the ready, too - as when encountering a "u pick it" sign at a Florida orange grove ("OK everyone pick your nose!"), or an alligator pit to climb, or a tambourine to lead a dance floor with, or a Tuscan hen house where he helped himself to some fresh eggs. A too-short life, but a full one, that will live on in all the great stories he left behind. Love to all the Garvey girls, I know he was your mascot, mentor, and biggest fan.

  • Nancy and Mel Garofalo

    Katie, Annie, Cait and Molly,
    Lee was such a wonderful man. Our hearts and prayers go out to each of you.

  • Tom Wright

    I am deeply saddened by Dr. Harvey's passing. It was an honor to have known him and so good to see him in the ED. Talking to him was like talking to a family member. He was so incredibly nice. My prayers go out to his family, friends and colleagues.

  • Debbie and Bill Constangy

    Dear Katie, Annie, Caitlin & Molly,

    We are so shocked and saddened by Lee's passing. He was such a wonderful and kind friend and neighbor to us! I know that you are so proud of his professional accomplishments but his greatest accomplishment was his family and their love for him.

    What a loss, not only to his family and friends, but also to the entire Charlotte community!

    All of you are in our prayers.

    Debbie and Bill Constangy

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