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Dr. Leon E. Kassel, internal medicine physician, dies at 92

Dr. Leon E. Kassel, internal medicine physician at Sinai Hospital, dies at 92

Dr. Leon E. Kassel, a retired internal medicine physician who set up and ran the outpatient program at Sinai Hospital, died Dec. 2 of congestive heart failure. He was 92.

Known for his diligent care for his patients, Dr. Kassel was a resident of the Roland Park Place retirement community and had previously lived in North Baltimore and Hunt Valley. In the late 1980s, he served a year as president of Med-Chi, the Maryland State Medical Society.

"He was extremely bright and gracious and courteous and courtly," said Gil Sandler, a neighbor at Roland Park Place and a friend since high school. "I never saw him in a bad mood."

Leon Kassel was born in Baltimore to Nathan and Esther Eileen Kassel, who operated a dry-goods store in Canton. He graduated from City College at 16 and was admitted to what was then the State Teachers College at Towson.

His youngest son, Daniel Kassel of Severna Park, said his father would take the streetcar to the city line, then walk the rest of the way to save the extra nickel in fare it cost to cross into Baltimore County.

Daniel Kassel said his father, feeling out of place at a school where most of the students were older, dropped out and went to work for the Army as a civilian for about six months before enlisting in the service early in World War II.

After scoring well on an aptitude test, Dr. Kassel was sent to what was then Pennsylvania State College, now Pennsylvania State University, to study engineering. After a subsequent test, the Army gave him the choice of working on a secret research project or attending medical school.

Dr. Kassel chose to study medicine at the University of Virginia and later learned the assignment he turned down was the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb.

His son said Dr. Kassel was relieved he had not been involved.

After earning his medical degree in 1949, Dr. Kassel took his residency at Sinai Hospital but was recalled into the military in 1952. He was assigned to the Air Force in Alaska, where he spent about a year in the Aleutians before his young family joined him in Anchorage.

Dr. Kassel left the Air Force in 1954 and returned to Baltimore, where he set up a private practice and renewed his association with Sinai. He received his certification in internal medicine in 1957.

In 1976, Dr. Boris Kerzner joined him in his practice. Dr. Kerzner said Dr. Kassel helped establish and led the ambulatory care training program, caring for people on an outpatient basis, at Sinai.

"He was certainly very well respected by his peers as well as his patients," Dr. Kerzner said. "He made a major contribution to that program at Sinai."

Dr. Kassel would go on to join the staff at Sinai, where he held such positions as associate chief of the medical department and director of the ambulatory medicine program.

By 1992, Dr. Kassel was director of Sinai's general medicine division, a capacity in which he treated older refugees from Russia who had settled in Baltimore. In a 1992 article in The Baltimore Sun, he described the challenges in treating patients who were often depressed as they tried to adapt to a new culture.

Dr. Kassel told The Sun he had learned not to suggest psychiatric help.

"In Russia, that can be a sentence for incarceration," he said. "We work through social workers. They get treated, but we do it through the back door."

For a time, Dr. Kassel served as acting chief of medicine at Sinai, said Lynn Wintriss, a stepdaughter who lives in Baltimore. He retired in the late 1990s, according to family members.

While he was assuming the presidency of Med-Chi, he met his third wife, the former Ann Wintriss, who survives him. She was the editor of Med-Chi's journal, and they met while she was writing a profile of him, Daniel Kassel said. They married in 1991.

According to that article, Dr. Kassel also served as an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and as an instructor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

"He just had an excellent bedside manner. His patients always came first," his son said. Whenever they went out to local restaurants, he said, former patients would come to the table and thank Dr. Kassel.

His son described Dr. Kassel as "very progressive," adding that his father established a pro bono clinic in East Baltimore and quit the American Medical Association over its opposition to Medicare.

After his retirement, Dr. Kassel enjoyed traveling with his wife to such destinations as Switzerland, Israel and Egypt. A daughter, Laurie Wallace of Raymond, Maine, said he was an avid fan of the Orioles and Baltimore Colts — and later the Ravens.

Services were held Dec. 5. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

In addition to his wife, son, daughter and stepdaughter, Dr. Kassel is survived by sons Jeffrey Kassel of Madison, Wis., and David Kassel of Orlando, Fla.; another stepdaughter, Sarah Pichler of California; a brother, Herbert Kassel of Pikesville; and six grandchildren. A daughter, Tina Kassel, died in early childhood. Marriages to Marjorie Moorman and the late Gazelle Max ended in divorce.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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