Editor’s Note: It was two years ago that the Highland Park Planet published a feature story on the remarkable and inspirational Dr. Norman Reitman, who died six weeks ago at the age of 105. We recall not only the accomplishments of Dr. Reitman, but also his most important characteristic – his humanity. All he wanted to do in the course of his adult life was to take care of people, because he genuinely cared about people – an example to pass on to our children and grandchildren during this Passover season and all year long.
Dr. Norman Reitman
AGE: 105 • Highland Park
Always a gentleman, always a scholar, and always on time, Dr. Norman Reitman of Highland Park passed away on Monday, February 27, 2017, at Parker Home at Stonegate, at the age of 105.
Known to the aides, who cared for him, as “the young man”, Dr. Reitman was known to his family, friends and frequent visitors for his sharp mind, impeccable memory, generous spirit, and the fact that he always dressed for dinner.
Dr. Reitman was predeceased in death by his wife, Syril Strauss Reitman, and a daughter, Lois Reitman Cartmell, and his brothers Sidney and Alan Reitman and is survived by his son and daughter-in-law, Dr. Milton and Ellen Reitman, of Dix Hills, NY, and his daughter and son-in-law, Alison and David Politziner, of Princeton, NJ. He also leaves behind a large family tree that includes seven grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren, who range in profession from medicine to policing, education to social work.
Born in 1912 in Brooklyn, NY, he grew up in East New York near New Lots Avenue, when “New Lots” meant “new lots” for building. Watching the city grow up around him, he learned what it meant to be an American from his politically active mother, Celia Greenman Reitman, who had emigrated from Belarus, his father Sam Reitman, who hailed from the Ukraine; and numerous aunts and uncles, all who lived on the same square block. One of his earliest memories was, as a Kindergartner, marching in a World War I parade against the Kaiser.
Moving to New Jersey as a teenager, he graduated from Bayonne High School in 1928, Rutgers College in 1932, and New York University in 1936 with a doctorate in medicine. It was while at Rutgers that he met the love of his life and future wife, Syril, a Douglass College student. It was also while at Rutgers that he experienced the Great Depression firsthand; waiting tables in order to pay tuition. He cast his first vote for president in 1932 for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Dr. Reitman opened his first medical practice in 1938 in a rented apartment in New Brunswick on New Street, in an era before antibiotics, chemotherapy and Medicare, and in a time when what often counted most in a patient’s recovery was bedside manner. Serving as physician for the Rutgers freshman football team on autumn afternoons, he made house calls to patients at all hours of the day or night.
Dr. Reitman enlisted in the US Army Air Corps in 1943, serving in World War II hospitals in Florida, Louisiana, Illinois and finally Alaska, where for two years he treated not only enlisted American women and men, but native Alaskans and Russian soldiers.
Back home in New Jersey, Dr. Reitman made it his business to be on the forefront of medicine, becoming one of the first certified internist in Middlesex County, and his office was the first to operate an electrocardiograph machine. In the early 1950’s he received his certification in cardiology, just as the first-ever open heart surgeries were being performed. He worked as an independent practitioner for 30 years before founding the well-known Cardiology Associates of New Brunswick in 1970. Along the way, he served as the 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), and a constant consultant, teacher and advisor.
In 1958, at age 46, he was elected as trustee of the Rutgers Alumni Association; and in 1975, to the Rutgers Board of Governors; subsequently becoming the chairman of the Rutgers Board of Governors. In1978, at age 76, he was elected Trustee Emeritus of the university. Upon his retirement at age 77 in 1989, the hospital and medical school honored him by establishing the annual Norman Reitman Lecture Series in Cardiology. Nearly 40 years ago, he and Syril established a Rutgers scholarship fund that has made careers in medicine possible for more than 150 students, hailing from countries from around the world.
Maybe it was because it was where he first met Syril, but “home” to Dr. Reitman was always Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, and over the years the Reitmans not only raised their children there but also made contributions to Jewish life including establishing the Reitman Scholar-in-Residence program. Dr. Reitman served as a life member of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County and assisted in fundraising to create Rutgers’ Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life.
“I always wanted to take care of people,” Dr. Reitman once told a researcher from Rutgers Oral History Archives.”That was a very important goal. I just wanted to sit down and say, “How are you and what can I do for you?” All through my personal life, I’ve had many opportunities to do things, but I am most comfortable when I’m sitting, as we are now, with me in my chair and you in your chair. And I say to you,”What’s the matter? How can I help?'”
Services were held on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 at the Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, 222 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ. Interment will follow in the Beth Israel Cemetery, Woodbridge, NJ.
Contributions in memory of Dr. Reitman may be made to the Rutgers University Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Foundation or the Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple.
Published in Home News Tribune on Mar. 5, 2017