Ben Shapero graduated from medical school in 1939, and still keeps active
A visitor was chatting with Ben Shapero, ’39, and his wife, Rosalie, at their home in West Palm Beach, Fla., this spring when Ben had to duck out to play some tennis. That would be nothing remarkable except that the doctor was 99 years old. Ben turned 100 on July 5, surrounded by his family, including (among others) his pediatrician son Paul Shapero, ’73, his daughter-in-law Jane Laeger, ’79, an obstetrician/gynecologist, and his granddaughter, Kayle, who has deferred entry to Tufts Medical School but will be a member of the Class of 2017.
Ben Shapero was born in Bangor, Maine, in 1912, one of six children in an Orthodox Jewish family. He served as a major in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. After the war he returned to Bangor, where he practiced as a pediatrician for 56 years. “You were an amazing physician to my children,” one woman wrote Shapero on the occasion of his centennial. “Will always remember the night you saw my daughter in your kitchen—my husband fixed a doorknob for you, and you called it even.” We spoke with Ben and Rosalie in mid-July.
What was growing up in Bangor like?
It was a small community, and people were very good to each other. If anybody needed something, they were very generous in helping other people.
What memories do you have of medical school?
There was a very close friend of mine from the University of Maine [where Shapero attended college] who went on to Tufts with me: Abe Rosen, ’39. We shared a room near the medical school. We were both very poor. We struggled.
How did you meet Rosalie?
Well, I was in the Air Force during the war. I was stationed in England for three years. After the war, I went back to the States. I had about a three months’ wait to get my discharge papers. They sent me to Wichita Fall, Texas, where I got my discharge. At Wichita Falls we used to go to the city for recreation. . .
Rosalie [exasperated]: He’s going into every little detail. Do you want all that?
Sure, it sounds like a good story.
Rosalie: May I tell part of it?
Ben: Let me tell it. One night a bunch of us were going into town in a taxi, and the taxi stopped and picked up another man, a soldier who told me about his problems, which were that he was 39 years old, lived in Pittsburgh and had been engaged to be married two months before he went into the service. He told me that his fiancée broke the engagement. I felt sorry for him. Later [after Shapero had helped the man secure an honorable discharge] he made me promise to stop in Pittsburgh on my way back to Bangor, Maine, which I did.
He had a receptionist in his office, a Jewish woman, and I asked her if she knew of any nice Jewish women that I could meet on my way back to Maine. She said, Oh, she had gone to Philadelphia and taken a postgrad course there with [Rosalie]. She had her phone number. I called Rosalie and asked if she wanted to have lunch with me, told her I was getting out of the service. She said, “Yes, I’ll meet you at lunchtime.” We met and seemed to hit it off.
How long have you been married?
Rosalie: Sixty-six years. Not bad [laughs]. We love each other very much, and we have lovely, lovely, wonderful children and grandchildren.
Doctor, what has medicine meant for you?
Well, it was a very enjoyable practice for me because I enjoyed helping people. I’d feel good when patients got better. Most of them were infants and children—they didn’t talk back to me like some others do. [Rosalie laughs.]
Now that you’re 100 years old, how do you spend your time?
I play a little tennis and a little golf.
Rosalie: Let me tell you. Three days a week he plays tennis, and three days a week he plays golf. He doesn’t sit still too much, unless he’s reading. He’s very active.
Ben: When I play tennis, it’s always doubles. I pick a partner who can run. They cover the court. I stay put, and my partner runs.
Do you still serve?
I can serve OK. I can’t serve very fast or hard, but I get it in the court.