John J. Leahy, 82, head of anesthesia at Wills Eye Hospital, who channeled his passions for photography and the history of his craft into developing the living history series at the Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology, died of cancer Tuesday at his home in New Tripoli, Pa. He also owned a home in Center City.

Dr. Leahy was born in Upper Darby. After his older brother died at age 6 of meningitis, which his mother was convinced he caught in a public school, Dr. Leahy was sent to the Holy Child School on Rittenhouse Square.

He later studied Latin, French and Greek, the language in which he read the classic philosophers, at St. Joseph's Preparatory School, from which he graduated at 16 in 1941. He also played the piano and organ.

He began his studies at St. Joseph's University, then quit to join the Navy at 17. He flunked the first exam because of poor eyesight, but memorized the eye chart and passed the next day.

During World War II, the Navy had a shortage of doctors. Dr. Leahy was chosen for the fast track to earn a medical degree. He graduated in one year with a degree in pre-med from Villanova University. The Navy then sent him to the University of Louisville, where he earned a medical degree in 1947.

But the war was over and Dr. Leahy was too young to take the medical boards, so he completed his residency at Georgetown University Hospital in 1950.

In 1951, Dr. Leahy re-enlisted in the Navy during the Korean War and served at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., until 1953.

Dr. Leahy worked for nearly 20 years at Providence Hospital in Washington, where he became head of anesthesia. After teaching at Northwestern University, he moved to Wynnewood and joined Wills Eye, where he was named head of anesthesia in 1972. He retired in 1991.

He married Margaret Libonati, also a doctor, in 1972, and they honeymooned in France. "John spoke fluent French with a Philly accent," his wife said. "But he was courteous and proper."

The couple raised a son and a daughter, and moved to Center City in the 1980s.

Dr. Leahy developed his love of photography from his father, William, who was a pioneer of color printing for the National Geographic Society.

Dr. Leahy was an active member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. He combined his love of the history of anesthesiology with that for photography to help found the living history series, which features leaders and inventions in the profession. The series is at the headquarters of the society in Park Ridge, Ill.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Leahy is survived by a son, William; a daughter, Lauren; and four grandchildren.

A memorial Mass will be at 11 a.m. today at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter & Paul, Logan Square. Burial will be private.

Donations may be made to the Missionaries of the Poor, Box 29893, Atlanta, Ga. 30359.

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or gsims@phillynews.com.