Murray Steinberg, a Baltimore-area gynecologist who nurtured a lifelong passion for physics by attending college-level science classes for decades, died of pancreatic cancer Tuesday at his Pikesville home. He was 87 and had stopped auditing courses at the Johns Hopkins University just last year.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Dr. Steinberg was a 1940 graduate of New York University, receiving his undergraduate degree at age 18 after being selected for Phi Beta Kappa and membership in biology and chemistry honor societies.
He had wanted to pursue a career in physics, but his parents dissuaded him. Becoming a doctor, they argued, would provide a steady living coming out of the Depression.
He relented, in the process passing up an opportunity to work on the Manhattan Project developing an atomic weapon, family members said.
"He was a boy genius in the area of physics and biology and chemistry," said his son-in-law, Gilbert Kleiner.
Dr. Steinberg graduated from New York College of Medicine in 1943 and completed an obstetrics residency at Sinai Hospital in 1946. That year, he married Frances Levenson, joined the Army and served at a military hospital at Fort Dix, N.J., until 1949. He opened a gynecology and female urology practice in Baltimore in 1951 and maintained it for a half-century.
He served on the staffs of Greater Baltimore Medical Center and Sinai and Northwest hospitals, and was chief of gynecology at the former North Charles General. He pioneered several surgical procedures to treat female incontinence before retiring in 2001 at the age of 80.
When his son, Robert Jay Steinberg, enrolled in law school in the 1970s, Dr. Steinberg decided he, too, would go back to the classroom. He went on to earn a master of liberal arts degree at Johns Hopkins. But even then he wasn't done being a student. He was interested in quantum mechanics, string theory and much more, and became a fixture in Hopkins science courses.
During physics lectures, he would sit in the back of the class but still interact with students and professors. Even though he spent his winters in Florida, he would have lectures sent to him so he could keep up with the other students and turn in his homework.
"He went to classes all this time," said his son, a District Court judge in Baltimore County. "He didn't make any big deal about it. It was just what he did. It was remarkable."
Dr. Steinberg had a fascination with pocket sundials and amassed a collection of them spanning three centuries.
In 1991, Frances Steinberg died. Two years later, Dr. Steinberg married Janet Gerber, a longtime family friend.
Dr. Steinberg was active in many organizations, including Phi Beta Kappa, where he served as president of the Greater Baltimore Association from 1999 until 2002, and the Master of Liberal Arts Alumni Committee at Johns Hopkins. He was also involved in the Resident Teaching Program at Sinai Hospital in urogynecology and was a member of the American Urogynecological Society, the OB-GYN Society of Maryland, the American College of OB-GYN, Beta Lambda Sigma-Honorary Biology Society and Phi Lambda Upsilon-Honorary Chemical Society.
Services will be held today at 11 a.m. at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road.
In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Steinberg is survived by a daughter, Carol Kleiner of Pikesville; two stepdaughters, Anne Pearce of Catonsville and Patricia Gerber of San Francisco; a stepson, Marc Gerber of La Jolla, Calif.; two sisters, Helen Acker of Coconut Creek, Fla., and Janice Zuckerman of New York City; 10 grandchildren; and a great-grandson.