For those of you who have not heard, my Dad, Robert Schwartz, died a week ago [June 7, 2008] at Boston Medical Center.
Sadly his was not an easy death. Tough to the end, he did did not want to go. Even on his death bed, gasping through an assisted breathing mask, he expressed worries about things he had not yet done for family. Nonetheless, death was inevitable. At the end, his pulmonary capacity was very, very small and there was far too much pain.
The good side is that his children, grand children, and wife all got to be there and he passed on with family holding his hands. While I do not feel he was ready to go, Dad must have know not only about all of our love but about the wonderful support he was getting from the staff at BU.
As his son, I am very proud of what he achieved and the heritage he leaves especially to Havi and Hillel, our two kids along with hundreds of students. For those who may not have known hm, let me tell you a bit about his remarkable life.
On my Dad's side, our family traces itself to Valencia and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Our surname there is not known, but my grandmother told me we were called by the epithet "negri," a derogatory "N" word used then for dark skinned "moorish" looking folks. After a time in Italy where we became the Negris (and lighter skinned family members became Belascioes) , parts of the family ended up in Brazil, Syria, Turkey and, for my grandfather Galicia, then a part of Austria under Franz Joseph.
Born to two immigrants from Galicia 91 years ago, my Dad lived through the era of immigration of Jews to the US, the Depression, prohibition, American antisemitism, Hitler, WWII, the nuclear era and cold war, the founding of Israel, McCarthy, the Civil Rights Revolution, the revolution in molecular biology, and more. He was involved in much of this in very personal ways. He even played a small role in undermining prohbition while serving as a courier for a family member invovled in distribution of the evil ethanol.
Unfortunately, perhaps because of remembered horrors of his time In post WW Germany, Robert Schwartz would never write a biography.
Living through the Depression, with too little money to attend college, my Dad matriculated at Middlesex University. This six year program leading to an MD, was later to close because of a low evaluation by the AMA's Flexner committee. All his life Dr. Schwartz felt a need to compensate for the source of his degree.
He married Mildred Lerner, one of the first female lawyers in Boston and daughter of a successful schoichet (kosher butcher). Her lifelong commitment was to their joint medical practice, our family and the idea of public service.
Millie drove Bob beyond any self imposed limitations comng from Middlesex. Volunteering to serve in Europe, my Dad was given his own medical company and served as Ike's poison gas adviser. At my Dad's request, Ike reassigned the' company to land on D-Day. Free to go where they were most needed, Dad and his men served in the major battles of WWII..
Finally his company liberated Buchenwald.
That event and events during his role as a Governor of a town in occupied Germany after the war resulted in nightmares for his whole life. Whenever I would suggest that he write a biography, Dad told me these memories were too painful to recall.
Back in the states, my Dad and my Mom "pioneered" civil rights, opening an office/home complex as the only Jews in a poor, Irish/Italian Catholic neighborhood of Boston called Hyde Park. The Catholics were not to happy about the arrival of Jews. The practice changed that. Overcoming some pretty vicious anti-Semitism, the office became a center for the community, along with the local Churches and schools. One local priest became a good friend, even giving me last rights when it appeared I was going to die at age 12 My Dad's practice, aided only by Mother .. a self-trained nurse, was a true "country doc" practice ... with everything from baby deliveries and coronaries to broken bones cared for in what was once the living room of our home.
Later they built a tiny office alongside the House. The "office" opened off of the rthe living room and had a total of about 900 square feet with its own rest room and an X-ray machine! The patients were poor, often paying in cannoli or "dego red" wine. I can remember many nights when the phone would ring and my Dad was off to give acute care for a coronary or home deliver a baby. My Dad's black bag rivalled today's emergency room carts!.
When he did not spend his nights giving acute care, Dad went through a pile of journals. My dad never felt he knew enough medicine to care for his patients. He was among the first physicians in Boston to own an EKG and Paul Dudley White sent his fellows down to our house were Dad ran an EKG tutorial. later, With Gus Kostecki, Dad developed an acoustic-EKG that cupled heart sounds to the electrocardiogram.
This devotion of a "local doc" to science attracted attention of faculty of the medical schools in Boston, beginning with Dr. Alice Lowell from Tufts. Along with Millie and Dr. Lowel's support, the practice morphed into one of the major sources of patients for Boston University School of Medicine. As a clinical professor at Tufts and BU, , Dad taught physical diagnosis and differential diagnosis to two generations of students. He played a major role in the origins of the American Academy of Family Practice. An amazing number of my colleagues have told me of their time as my Dad's students. As a teacher myself, I wonder if I can ever meet his standards?
There is a lot more to say about life in this office/home complex.. Politics and ethics were a dominant part of our family life. One particular story I love reflected my parents' commitment to equality.: During my applications to college, my Dad took me oin a trip to see Hopkins. We also visited Washing5ton DC. I was very impressed with the Black People we met on the streets of Baltimore and DC because they were SO polite. I commented on this telling him, "Black people here mst be a lot more educated than in Boston!" Dad corrected me, "No, they are not being polite, they are afraid of you because you are white." I wonder how many folks in 1959 had this sort of understanding?
Twenty seven years ago, my Mom Millie died, leaving a gaping wound that never healed despite the amazing devotion and love of his second wife, Betty. The practice continued for sixty tears in the same house, ending only two years ago when his health had deteriorated to the point where he was no long able to continue.
Dad's long role as a teacher of physicians had a fitting ending in his own care. The staff made a hard time memorable by their kindness.
My two sibs, our spouses, and the three grand kids have established the Robert Schwartz Black Bag Fund as a means of continuing the role Dad payed as a Clinical Professor and legendary teacher at BUSM. The memory and tradition, will be kept alive by an award for the third year BUSM student showing exceptional commitment to clinical medicine. Our family will provide the needed funds to assure the award can be made but anything additional funds will be used to help the selected students pursue their carers. Contributions can be sent in the namke of the fund to BUSM:
Boston University School of Medicine
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