This summer, at the age of thirty, I had my very first surgery. It was early in the morning and I found myself in the car with my father driving across the Julia Tuttle Causeway straight into a dark ominous cloud that seemed to engulf all of Miami Beach including Mt. Sinai Hospital where I was about to have inguinal hernia surgery. Just as we entered the Gumenick Ambulatory Surgical Center the heavens opened up and it began to pour only as it can do in Miami on a humid July morning. Sitting in the waiting room, nervous about surgery, I found myself reflecting on my grandfather, Melvin Simonson, M.D. (Granddaddy), and his professional and civic involvement on Miami Beach.
Born on the westside of Chicago in 1913, Granddaddy was the product of immigrant parents from Lithuania and Poland. He often spoke about how he sold newspapers during the Great Depression on busy State Street dodging in and out of traffic to save money to buy a suit for his graduation. He attended Northwestern University and interned at Cook County General Hospital after which he was conscripted into the US Army during World War II. He specialized in psychiatry and neurology and at one time attended as one of the physicians for President Roosevelt at Walter Reed Hospital. He finished his residency at South Beach Hospital where he met his future wife, Mary Maxine Alred, a registered nurse. They were married and moved back to Chicago before the war ended where he got a position with the VA Hospital in Downey, Illinois.
Granddaddy quickly became Chief of Staff of Psychiatry and Neurology. In the mid 1950’s he requested a transfer to the VA Hospital in Coral Gables, Florida, now The Biltmore Hotel. He taught psychiatry at the University of Miami at Jackson Memorial Hospital and in 1956 opened an office in North Miami as one of two practicing psychiatrists in the Miami area. Granddaddy was well published in leading peer-reviewed journals, such as, The Journal of the American Medical Association and The American Journal of Psychiatry, many of his articles can be found online today. He was a forerunner in Electroconvulsive (ECT) and Hypnosis therapies. In 1961 he became a Charter Life Member at Mt Sinai Hospital, where he served on staff and practiced psychiatry until the early 1990’s. Throughout his years practicing medicine he had hospital privileges at St. Francis Hospital, North Shore Hospital and North Miami General in addition to Mt. Sinai.
As I sat in the waiting room, I thought of Granddaddy’s name in the lobby of the De Hirsch Meyer Tower and how far medicine has come, in part, from people like him. Granddaddy died in 2003 at the age of ninety. He went in for a hernia operation, much like the one I was to have, but he never woke up. As far back as I can remember he always had a hernia because of the truss he would always wear. He talked about how he had lived with it since he was in his thirty’s. He said he never got it fixed because of the severity of the hernia surgery back then. Medicine has advanced light-years from when my grandfather was in his thirty’s. It makes me wonder if he had received the same quick hernia fix I had, if he would still be here today to see his one hundredth birthday.
I will remember my grandfather for twilight walks on Normandy Shores Golf Club in search of golf balls, for teaching me to drive, for making me do multiplication tables at a very young age and instilling in me morals including a sense of volunteerism. He never spoke much, but when he did it meant something. He was from a different era. He would communicate by news clips and typing short notes on his typewriter. I remember he would reminisce about his childhood growing up in Michiana, on the border of Michigan and Indiana. He took me to public hearings and gatherings on Miami Beach where he spent time pushing for more green space and more parking on the Beach. He never spoke unkindly of anyone. His life’s lessons were many. He raised four children and always managed to find a way to help his seven grandchildren whom he taught in “fun ways”. He gave me strength and guidance as only a grandparent knows how to give. On this Grandparents Day I ask that we all take time to remember our grandparents. Most of all I am proud to call Melvin Simonson- my Granddaddy!
In loving memory of my Grandparents Ruth Lessner, Maxine Simonson, Melvin Simonson, Max Sisser and Manny Lessner.
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