Valentine’s Day, 2015 – the weather outside was frightful when this reporter visited PARKER at Stonegate Assisted Living Residence on River Road in Highland Park. But the atmosphere inside was delightful, thanks to festive Valentine’s decorations, an assortment of Valentine’s sweets, and one of the “real sweethearts” residing at the elegant facility – Norman Reitman, MD, who celebrated his 103rd birthday on Jan. 15. The people of Highland Park for six decades have been treated to the good nature and good deeds of Dr. Reitman, a nationally renowned and locally loved cardiologist, who moved with his family to his home at 498 Harrison Avenue in the mid-1950s.
From a geographic point of view, the centenarian has lived his life on the edge in Highland Park – his Harrison Avenue home was on the edge of the Edison border, his PARKER home is on the edge of the Piscataway border, and before moving to PARKER, he lived on Adelaide Avenue, on the edge of the New Brunswick border. From a personality and behavioral point of view, there has been nothing edgy about Dr. Reitman’s attitude towards the community.
“He genuinely loves and respects this town and the people who live and work here – their commitment to community, working to help one another rather than everyone for themselves,” said his daughter Alison Politziner.
The self-described “just a Jewish boy from Brooklyn,” Dr. Reitman has spent most of his 103 years in the New Brunswick/Highland Park area. He graduated Rutgers University in 1932, received his MD from New York University in 1936, moved back to New Brunswick to marry his college sweetheart Syril, whom he met at an Anshe EmethTemple social for college students, when he was at Rutgers and she at Douglass. He worked as a physician for Rutgers, started his own practice in 1938, left town to serve as chief of medicine in the United States Army Air Corps and returned to the region in 1946 as a general practitioner. He decided to take his medical career in a different direction after he met New Jersey’s pioneering cardiologist Dr. Jerome Kaufman, who inspired Dr. Reitman to pursue cardiology as a medical specialty.
His professional colleagues over the course of his long career have highlighted on his exceptional professional accomplishments: a solo practitioner for 30 years before founding a prestigious cardiology practice, Cardiology Associates, now consisting of 10 cardiology specialists.; first president of the Middlesex County Heart Association; a New Jersey Governor for the American College of Cardiology; chief of staff at the Middlesex General Hospital (now Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital; tireless consultant, lecturer, and teacher.
Residents of Highland Park have known him as an individual whose passion and commitment to his patients and medicine never diminished his passion and commitment for his family and his community. During that Valentine’s Day visit with him, he wanted to talk about the four blessings in his life – why he considers himself “A Man for Four Seasons:” Repeating lines in a speech he gave at his 100th birthday celebration, he said “I have had a fulfilling personal, family life, a successful professional life, a stimulating academic life, and a wide ranging community and (Jewish) temple life.”
Highland Park residents may recall with great fondness his wife Syril, who died in 2001, whom “everyone loved…who was my guiding star,” he said. His children Milton (Long Island), Lois (Hillsborough) and Alison (Princeton) attended Highland Park schools – and frequented the Dairy Queen, reportedly a townie hangout. His seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, although not residents of the community, feel an affinity for the town because of Dr. Reitman’s very strong roots here, according to Alison.
“My Dad instilled in me the idea that life is enriched by giving back to the community….I see how full his life became by being involved in many different organizations. He gave time to the causes he cared about, and was always called upon to ask others to contribute….Although particularly praised for his contributions to the Jewish community (Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick and the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County), Alison particularly remembers his “community service” in Highland Park as someone who was “just always there for others, took time for others no matter what their needs were – medical, personal, financial. The close knit environment of Highland Park just was a perfect fit for his temperament and a great place for raising his family,” said Alison.
All three of his children made house calls with their father, and Alison noted that she really got to know the town by doing this. Sitting down with his family at dinner was an all important to him, but when necessary that “family” included many others in the community. “Our door was always open to others,” said Alison.
His notion of community service, however, goes beyond the edge of the Highland Park border. He served as chairman of the Rutgers University Board of Governors and assisted in the fundraising to establish at Rutgers the Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life. He and his wife established a scholarship fund at Rutgers to aid undergraduate students pursuing a career in medicine. And just as he has inspired his own family members, he inspired his colleagues to establish the annual Norman Reitman Lecture in Cardiology – a gift to him upon his retirement in 1989. A life member of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, Dr. Reitman has been an inspiring leader, and he, in partnership with his wife, were generous donors to the Jewish Federation and Anshe Emeth in New Brunswick.
Dr. Reitman, although staying within Highland Park’s boundaries for the majority of his life, has exhibited goodness and generosity that have known no boundaries.