It is hard to live 103 years and still have so many people come to a memorial service celebrating your life, especially when you haven’t had kids or grandkids of your own. But if you knew Dr. Erika Bruck, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Buffalo for 50 years, you would know why the sanctuary at Temple Beth Am in Amherst was far from empty this past Sunday.
Dr. Bruck was nearly retired from clinical practice when we arrived in Buffalo in 1983. And though not a pediatrician myself, I was fortunate that I came to know Dr. Bruck as a insightful physician who sought others who shared her commitment to the patients and the science that had to be applied to help those patients. Her students and trainees were granted no reprieve from her exacting standards of knowledge and care for the kids.
Dr. Bruck escaped the Nazis when her parents sent her to Turkey which, at that time, was welcoming German Jews to help build their scientific and intellectual infrastructure. She finished her medical education and eventually emigrated to the United States. She trained in the best institutions, including Cincinatti Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia before making her home in the Boston Hills of Western New York where she lived until her death in 2011. Although settled in this community, she was a worldly person who traveled extensively and was a photographer and lover of nature and wildflowers.
The memorial service was organized by Dr. Nina Jablonski, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Penn State University. Nina’s father headed the laboratories at Children’s hospital; Dr. Bruck was medical director. Nina became the surrogate “child” that Dr. Bruck guided and mentored throughout life.
In a beautiful booklet (access here: booklet-erika-bruck) rich with the text of her speech and photos by and of Dr. Bruck, Dr. Jablonski shared with us the beautiful story of Dr. Bruck’s life and her work, the people she touched, and the difference she made. I listened to Dr. Jablonski recount her life with Erika, and was teary eyed many times throughout the speech. I connected with Nina quickly through her warmth and then learned we had been at Bryn Mawr College at the same time, so my connection and admiration for her love and appreciation of Dr. Bruck was further strengthened, making the grey Buffalo afternoon feel warm and bright.
After formal speeches were over, former residents, colleagues, neighbors and patients spoke from their hearts and left no doubt that this woman had left the world a much better place than when she arrived.