By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun
11:25 AM EDT, July 17, 2013
Dr. Jacob C. Handelsman, a retired Baltimore surgeon whose career spanned six decades at Johns Hopkins Hospital, died July 1 from complications of dementia at Roland Park Place. He was 94.
The son of immigrant parents from Europe who owned and operated a pants factory, Jacob Charles Handelsman was born and raised in Elizabeth, N.J., where he graduated in 1936 from Thomas Jefferson High School.
"My choice since age 10 was to go to 'Johns' Hopkins. I even knew how to spell it," Dr. Handelsman wrote in an extensive, unpublished two-volume memoir.
"I had already decided to be a doctor when I was 4. My parents said it, I said it, the world cried for it!,'" he wrote. "When I was in Jr. High, I had a chemistry set and a good lab in our basement. Here I managed to burn my sister with sulfuric acid when my homemade fire extinguisher exploded."
Dr. Handelsman earned a bachelor's degree in 1940 from the Johns Hopkins University and his medical degree in 1943 from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
After completing an internship and a residency, he served as chief surgeon with the Army Medical Corps 391st hospital of the 88th Infantry Division in Udine, Italy.
He returned to Hopkins Hospital in 1947, where he completed a surgical residency under Dr. Alfred Blaylock in 1950.
During his years in the department of surgery at Hopkins, Dr. Handelsman had been a student, post-graduate fellow, associate professor and adviser to the department.
After being presented a Halstead Fellowship in Surgery, Dr. Handelsman worked with Dr. Richard Bing on his pioneering work in his cardiac catheterization laboratory.
In addition to teaching third-year medical students and being the surgeon-in-charge of the surgical outpatient clinics, Dr. Handelsman maintained a private practice in surgery, where he specialized in pediatric surgery, thoracic surgery and inflammatory bowel disease.
In 1944, he married the former Shirley Esther Silverberg. After living in Howard Park, the couple moved in 1956 to a home on Logan Road in Owings Mills.
It was Dr. Handelsman's daily routine to leave home before dawn and return no earlier and often later than 7:30 p.m., when he sat down to have dinner with his family.
It was a rigid schedule that he maintained for decades, family members said.
"It seems to me that in this day and age, doctors as a group are going through a lot of changes, and the economics of medicine tend to drive them away from patients," said a son, Stephen H. Handelsman of Bethesda, who is a political and foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News in Washington.
"He had a phone right next to the dining room table and even if we were eating dinner, he'd pick up the phone and talk to a patient or a family member," he said.
"He was kind and understanding to the point, and sometimes he'd put the phone down and would say that they were having financial problems and he was not going to charge them," his son said. "He'd say that some could afford to pay while others couldn't, and he did not want that to be a burden."
After retiring from his practice in 1989, he continued working as director of same day surgery at Hopkins Hospital. He had been a member of the board of the Johns Hopkins Magazine and the Johns Hopkins Medical Journal.
Mr. Handelsman said his father exuded an irrepressible gregariousness and optimism throughout his lifetime.
"He was a fun-loving guy who always looked on the bright side," he said.
Dr. Handelsman was a diplomate to the American Board of Surgery and was a member of the American College of Surgeons, the Society of University Surgeons, the Maryland Medical and Chirurgical Society and the Baltimore City Medical Society. He had been president of the Baltimore Academy of Surgery.
He was a member of the Baltimore Ostomy Association, where he had served on the medical advisory board. He had also been a member of the board of Blue Shield of Maryland from 1977 to 1989, and chaired the medical division of Associated Jewish Charities.
He also volunteered with Baltimore's Man Alive Drug Program and the Learning Bank Literacy Program.
Dr. Handelsman was supportive of his wife's 30-year involvement with Planned Parenthood. She died in 2009.
A resident of Roland Park Place since 2005, Dr. Handelsman was an accomplished woodworker and had built most of his home's furniture. He also was a sculptor.
"He could never just sit around," his son said. "He was a pretty bad tennis player but he loved to play. He was also a bad skier but loved to ski. He really enjoyed life and loved his family and friends."
He was a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.
Plans for a memorial service to be held at Johns Hopkins Hospital are incomplete..
Also surviving are another son, Newsday and Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Walt Handelsman of Woodbury, N.Y.; a sister, Bea Tannenbaum of Bucks County, Pa.; and four grandchildren. Another son, Bruce Handelsman, an artist, died in 1992; and a daughter, Jane Handelsman Hendrix, an audiologist, died in 1989.
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