Dr. Bert Lubin, 1939-2020

Bert Lubin was born in 1939 in the Bronx, New York where his father worked as a huckster, selling fruit off of a pushcart. After years of hard work pushing his fruit cart, Bert’s father moved the family to Pittsburgh around 1946. In Pittsburgh, the family settled in Bellevue, where Bert’s parents opened George’s Fruit Market. Bert and his younger brother worked daily at the fruit market before school, helping their parents collect fruit early in the morning and helping out in the store in the afternoons. George’s Fruit Market became something of an institution in Bellevue, providing high-quality produce and a personal touch which included home deliveries, fresh fruit gift baskets, and Christmas tree deliveries during the holidays. Bert learned life lessons during his years in the fruit store about the importance of hard work, the need to treat everyone with respect, and the value of helping those in need.

In addition to working at the fruit market and attending school in Bellevue, Bert became an excellent drummer. He won state honors for his proficiency in snare drum and was a member of several high-school marching and jazz bands. Without his parent’s knowledge, Bert was also consuming Pittsburgh’s historic jazz scene and saw phenomenal local and national performers such as Ahmad Jamal, Art Blakey, Jimmy Smith, and the renown Thelonious Monk. Bert remembers attending Thelonious Monk’s performance in Pittsburgh when Monk’s drummer took ill and couldn’t perform. Bert, ever the extrovert, offered his drumming service and Monk invited him to join during the performance.

At the end of high school, Bert had a decision to make – to follow his passion for jazz or higher education. Knowing that his parents worked tirelessly in the fruit market so he and his brother could attend college, Bert decided to enter Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, where he became the first member of his family to graduate college. At Washington and Jefferson, Bert played on the tennis team and developed a passion for science that rivaled his passion for jazz. Following his college graduation, Bert entered Pittsburgh University’s School of Medicine and earned his MD in 1964. He was drafted into the military in 1967-68, where he served as a doctor in a rural health clinic caring for Vietnamese children.  After the war, he completed a residency at Boston Children’s Hospital and joined the faculty at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania.

In 1973, Bert accepted an offer at Oakland Children’s Hospital, where he immediately fell in love with the hospital’s community service mission and its dedicated care for children with sickle cell disease, an ailment for which he became a trailblazer as a physician and researcher. Bert helped develop the research mission at Children’s by becoming the founding director of the Children’s Hospital Research Institute which ultimately moved into the historical Old Merritt College building on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. In 2007 Bert became the CEO of Children’s Hospital at a time when the national recession made finances at independent hospitals like Children’s especially precarious. Bert helped manage a merger between Children’s Hospital and UC San Francisco, ensuring the hospital’s community service mission in what has become the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.  Bert retired from Children’s Hospital in 2018 but was not done working.

In 2018, Bert affiliated with the UC Berkeley School of Engineering, where he helped mentor students interested in creating medical technologies that could help children in hospitals. During the present pandemic, even as he was coping with his brain tumor, Bert assisted in a project to repurpose medical devices into ventilators that have been delivered to health care systems globally.

Bert made a lasting impact on the East Bay, not only through his work at Children’s and at UCSF, but also through his and his wife, Vivian Scharlach’s philanthropy, especially involving organizations and health clinics dedicated to immigrant and community health and jazz and arts institutions.

When he wasn’t at Children’s Hospital, Bert could often be found at the Berkeley Tennis Club, where he regularly played tennis. No matter where he went, whether in the halls of the hospital or in a local Berkeley fruit stand that reminded him of his youth, Bert was warm-hearted and treated everyone graciously and with his famous smile. He was proud to be on a first-name basis with all of the employees of the hospital, and without fail, people remember his compassion.

Bert died peacefully on June 27 after a two-year struggle with a brain tumor. He was surrounded by his wife, Vivian Scharlach, and family. He was 81.

Bert’s life will be celebrated when it is safe to gather.  Memorial contributions may be made to the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland Center for Excellence for Immigrant Child Health and Wellbeing or the Center for Community Health and Engagement.