Elmer Grossman, MD: Jan. 30, 1929 – Aug. 15, 2020
Beloved husband, father, grandfather, uncle, cousin, physician, community leader, wise advisor and friend to many, Elmer Grossman, MD passed away peacefully in his sleep at home on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020.
Born in Los Angeles, CA, raised in Akron, Ohio, and Pomona, California, he was the youngest of two sons. A precocious student and voracious reader, he was advanced several times until he was two years ahead of his peers. A kind librarian granted him an adult library card after he exhausted the children’s section. His eagerness to learn and absorb education served him well as a physician and as a man whose motto was ‘often wrong but never in doubt’. Throughout his life, many people admired and relied on him for his wide and deep knowledge.
He entered UC Berkeley at the age of 16 and graduated with a degree in general studies. He was surprised to be accepted into UCSF Medical School when many students were competing for admission after WWII.
He married his first wife, Rosalind, while she was completing her undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley. She pursued a teaching credential at San Francisco State while Elmer completed medical school. They lived in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood and found creative ways to economize on a limited budget. After an internship in Santa Ana, CA, Elmer volunteered to join the Air Force, where he served at Travis Air Force Base. There he was inspired by Dr. Marshall Klaus to become a pediatrician, initiating a lifelong friendship between the two families. His eldest daughter Deena (Larry Tyrrell), was born at Travis. His second daughter, Marianna, was born in San Francisco before the family moved to Berkeley, when Elmer joined the Berkeley Pediatric Medical Group.
Elmer established himself as a trusted pediatrician with a calm and gentle demeanor, treating and guiding generations of patients and their families. He also conducted research, served on public health and medical ethics committees and taught at UCSF and other area hospitals.
Elmer participated in local politics by canvassing with his children for school integration, going to anti-war demonstrations and supporting other progressive causes. The family joined Temple Beth El and Elmer became President, helping to hire a new rabbi and bringing new energy to the community.
Elmer loved gardening; camping; photography; listening to classical music and opera; playing folk music; hiking; and enjoying the beach with loved ones. He taught his children to identify trees, plants, birds and mushrooms. He delighted in puns and word play. The family enjoyed exploring the many cuisines in the Bay Area and frequently hosting home-cooked meals and BBQ, often followed by spirited singing. Many visits were exchanged with members of the extended family in Southern California.
In the 1970s he joined the Esalen Project for Humanistic Medicine where he met Pam, the woman with whom he would spend the next chapter of his life. Pam’s children Cam (Steve Sutter) and Mike, moved with her to Berkeley and a new family was created. After 33 years of practice, Elmer retired in 1992 which gave him more time to spend with his grandchildren, Leia Tyrrell; Kate, Emma and Spencer Z Sutter; and Sophie and Reta Keller.
Elmer and Pam shared many loves including chamber music, the UC Botanical Garden and spending time with family and friends. They organized their neighborhood block parties and were leaders in disaster preparedness, even putting the shed with shared recovery tools next to their house. Elmer was proud of Pam’s extensive volunteer work including with Hospice, the Botanical Garden, Meals on Wheels and the Berkeley Public Library. Elmer continued his lifelong community service by chairing an environmental committee for the City of Berkeley, contending with contentious and sometimes hostile views about the real or imagined dangers posed by the tritium used at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.
Ten Speed Press published his books Everyday Pediatrics on the practice of pediatrics for medical professionals and Everyday Pediatrics for Parents. Elmer wrote A Partial Memoir about his own life, and collaborated with Pam on a book about her family history Straight Out of Jail. His articles were published in medical journals and in Saveur magazine. Together he and Pam created a family cookbook, illustrated with photos of family members cooking together, highlighting holiday traditions. For 35 years they made award-wining wine labeled Basement Vintners. Together they created magnificent and delicious meals in their spacious kitchen, welcoming to their art-filled home friends and family who were fortunate enough to be in their circles of connection.
Elmer and Pam traveled widely, visiting many countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America, sometimes in the company of friends or family. Paris was a favorite destination. They relished superb wine, food, music, art, vistas and cultural experiences. Elmer skillfully captured their travels with his camera, distilling their adventures into vivid images.
Elmer lived with gusto, savoring each experience and relationship as much as he did slurping a freshly harvested oyster, strolling on a windy Pacific beach, hiking in the redwoods, hugging a loved one or cherishing his wife Pam. He was a man of emotion, often moved to tears.
He enjoyed talking politics and as the evenings wore on and the level in the wine bottles fell, his volubility increased. He was gratified to learn that his son-in-law, Steve Sutter, completed his evolution from Republican to Independent to Democrat just in time for the 2020 Presidential Election. He treasured both large extended family gatherings like those his parents used to host, and more intimate times with family or friends. Although he could be boisterous and enthusiastic, his energy was replenished during the happy, solitary hours he spent – working in the garden; turning gorgeous wood into jewelry and furniture; reading and writing.
His thirst for knowledge kept him perpetually acquiring insights and life experiences that he distilled into wisdom and generously bestowed on those he loved as lavishly as he served succulent slices of his expertly roasted and carved turkeys.
If he were to hear this adulation of his many gifts and talents, he would say ‘about my humility you say nothing?!’
The outpouring of love and appreciation for Elmer in the last days of his life revealed his profound impact on many scores of people: family, friends, colleagues, patients, community leaders, neighbors, and more, all deeply affected by his love, wisdom and zest for life. His memory and legacy will be carried forward by all whose lives he touched.
Funeral arrangements are private. No flowers please. Donations in his honor may be made to: the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) or to UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. Visit www.elmergrossman.com to share memories.