Remembering Dr. John S. Lowitz, who linked cigarettes to lung cancer in 1956

Dr. John S. Lowitz, who became Kaiser Permanente’s assistant chief of psychiatry in San Francisco, is believed to be the first person to put chalkboards in hospital waiting rooms for children to draw on.

Dr. John S. Lowitz. Courtesy of his family

Born in Rock Island, Illinois, on Feb. 25, 1936, the son of Samuel and Evelyn Lowitz, Dr. John S. Lowitz passed away peacefully in Berkeley on Oct. 10 after a long battle with bladder and kidney cancers.

Dr. Lowitz was a graduate of Rock Island High School and attended Washington University in St. Louis, graduating from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, where his 1956 thesis documented the then-unreported linkage of cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

He graduated from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago and served as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy in Key West, Florida, during the Vietnam War.

Originally trained as a pediatrician, Dr. Lowitz became a psychiatrist specializing in child, family and group therapy. He worked at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco and Walnut Creek for over 35 years, becoming assistant chief of psychiatry in San Francisco.

He is believed to be the first person to put chalkboards in hospital waiting rooms for children to draw on, and was a mentor and teacher to many psychiatry residents.

A bon vivant, Dr. Lowitz was a lover of travel, golf, cigars, good food and fine wine, and was one of the founders of the FAWTS (Friday Afternoon Wine Tasting Sessions), where he made great lifelong friends. He was a classical music aficionado with an eclectic taste in music from Paul Simon to Scott Joplin to Stravinsky. His sharp ears and discerning palate elevated his friends’ musical and epicurean tastes. He is lovingly remembered for cooking barbecue from a sawed-in-half old oil can in his backyard, and for sharing lively gourmet meals with family and friends. 

He served for over 10 years on the board of the Crowden Music Center in Berkeley and was a supportive member of the advisory board of the Jewish Community Free Clinic of Sonoma County. Dr. Lowitz is survived by his wife and partner of 40 years, Dr. Fran Krieger-Lowitz of Berkeley, and their daughter, Saraevelyn Lowitz; by his daughters Dr. Robin Lowitz (and son-in-law Ned Hoffman), Leslie Lowitz and Leza Lowitz; by his grandchildren, Shaviv, Skyler and Yuto; by his brother Dr. Robert Lowitz (and sister-in-law, Carol Lowitz) of Walnut Creek; by his nieces, Kelsey Lowitz and Ally Thorndike, and their families of California; by his first cousins, Pete and Jan, and their children, Benjamin and Wanda Temko, and family of Georgia; and by Leonard and Janice Temko of New York.

A celebration of John’s life will be held from 1-3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 14, at the Crowden Music Center at 1475 Rose St. in Berkeley. Kindly RSVP to johnlowitzmemorial@gmail.com. In his honor, contributions can be made to the Jewish Community Free Clinic of Sonoma County and the Crowden Music Center.