Aging And Family And The Passing Of Great Men

Aging And Family And The Passing Of Great Men


Leonard Zwelling

It’s important to remember that your family remembers you as you were then and may or may not accept you for who you are now. This includes your elders (of whom there are few left for me), your contemporaries, and the children old enough to have known you when.

I just finished a family week in Cleveland. The BW’s sister and her husband hosted us as we spent a little time on the golf courses in sub-90’s temperatures (only by a degree or two), visiting our extended family, and, of course, taking in a Cleveland Guardians game at Progressive Field. The Guards were kind enough to defeat the Astros’ prime adversary Seattle and it was nice to watch baseball outside for a change.

It is in this context that I have been mulling my mortality. This becomes easier when you are among the oldest in a room full of relatives. I’m almost 76. I’m entitled.

This visit has been bookended by two significant deaths, with another in the middle to make the requisite three. Thus, the mortality issue.

My good friend and colleague Dr. Nathan Berger passed away after a protracted illness on June 15 in Cleveland. We found out in time to make a shiva call and this was a true mitzvah. Nate was a great cancer center director at Case Western Reserve and rose to be the dean of the medical school. He was writing grants and publishing papers until his final days despite being home bound. He will be sorely missed.

As I write, the death of one of the “Pros from Dover,” Donald Sutherland, is reported by CNN. He died at 88. Mr. Sutherland was also working up to his final days as an actor. He will always be remembered by my generation as the original Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H. I saw that film with my medical school classmates in our freshmen year. We all wanted to be surgeons after that.

Finally, the greatest all-around baseball player that I ever saw, Willie Mays, died at 93. In 1962, when the San Francisco Giants first returned to the Polo Grounds to play the new kids on the block, The New York Mets, I was a huge Mays fan. Willie seemed to transcend race and had huge appeal in the white community.

I was sitting in left field with my high school buddies when the first two Giants got on base—Harvey Kuenn and Felipe Alou. Mays was up next. He promptly hit the ball directly over our heads and out of the Polo Grounds. The crowd went wild. I went wild. After that, until the year I graduated from high school, my friends and I would take the Long Island Rail Road and the subway to Willets Point to see the Mets play the Giants on the Sunday of Memorial Day for their annual double header. We saw the Mets make a triple play and saw the beginning of one of the longest games in major league history on May 31, 1964 when the Giants beat the Mets 8-6 in a 23- inning game that was the second one of a double header.

We left Shea in about the 16th inning. It was way past our bedtimes. It took us over an hour to ride the train home and as we arrived at the Bellmore LIRR station, the Giants won. We saw it on a small black-and-white TV in the station taxi stand.

These three men bring memories flooding back.

Nate Berger assisted me inthe methodology I used to write the best paper I ever authored. It was accepted to the Journal of Biological Chemistry without revisions. It was the moment, in 1982, when I knew I was ready to run my own lab.

Donald Sutherland was great in countless roles, but it was two that stood out for me. Obviously, he was Hawkeye. In Don’t Look Now he played a church restorer who goes to Venice after the death of his daughter in a Nicholas Roeg horror classic not to be missed.

And there is not enough I can say that hasn’t already been said in the past few days about Willie Mays. He was great. He was fluid. He was poetry with a bat and glove.

I think if these men as I consider my place in my family as I age. They led great lives. They were great people.

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