Robert Wiener became the “doyen” of Canada on June 19, 2017.
He was a mere 109 years and eight months old at the time.
With his 110th birthday on Oct. 27, Wiener has further secured the title of the oldest man in Canada.
According to The 110 Club, “the world’s largest supercentenarian forum,” the retired oral surgeon is the 10th oldest man anywhere on the planet.
Wiener is not resting on his laurels, though, and is keeping up with his fitness regime and Mediterranean diet, as he has for years.
Other than hearing loss and diminished eyesight, Wiener is surprisingly well, mentally sharp and cheerful. In fact, he’s a great conversationalist who still has a twinkle in his eye.
When The CJN visited him, he was happy that his new aids had improved his hearing and was looking forward to getting new glasses to brighten his vision. His only quibble about his health was that he gets drowsy in the afternoon sometimes, but he is confident that his doctor will find a solution.
For the past 10 years, Wiener has lived in an apartment in a seniors’ residence in Westmount, Que., with a full-time attendant.
A lifelong believer in the value of physical activity, Wiener gets on his stationary bike every morning, logging impressive mileage, and works out with dumbbells.
He reads the newspaper using a special electronic magnifier to stay abreast of what’s happening. That’s how he learned of the Mediterranean diet, and now insists on fish four times a week and “lots of salads.”
The food is much too bland for him, though, and he always brings a shaker of herbs and spices to give his meals a bit of a kick.
Wiener admits he doesn’t have all his teeth, but “enough to eat, and that’s all you need.”
He has incredible optimism.
– Aviva Lowe
Wiener likes watching tennis and golf on television, two sports he played avidly. But don’t get him started on hockey.
“It’s not the same game anymore,” he says, launching into an analysis of the lack of finesse in today’s NHL. He traces the decline to the league’s expansion to “places that don’t know one side of the puck from the other.”
Wiener practised dentistry well into his 80s. He has had no major acute illness and suffers no chronic maladies.
His granddaughter, Aviva Lowe, a Toronto pediatrician, says he is “quite remarkable.” She thinks his sunny outlook has a lot to do with his longevity.
“He has incredible optimism. He doesn’t allow any deficits he has to depress or isolate him. He puts a positive spin on everything. He always thinks something can be done about a problem,” she says.
Three years ago, Wiener was among 500 Canadians, all over 85, who enrolled in a Canadian Cancer Society-funded study. Wiener was the oldest person in the study, which focuses on deciphering the subjects’ DNA.
He does have heredity on his side: one of his older brothers lived to 109.
He puts a positive spin on everything.
– Aviva Lowe
Born in Montreal, Wiener was the youngest of seven children. “I was the one who always had to run the errands,” he jokes.
He and his beloved wife of 72 years, Ella Wiener, who died in 2011, had three children.
After graduating from Baron Byng High School, Wiener attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. He then went to McGill University and graduated in dentistry in 1936, following in his older brother’s footsteps. He won the faculty’s gold medal and began a residency at the Montreal General Hospital. He recalls that there were only three Jews there at the time.
He continued his studies at the University of Chicago, where he earned a master’s degree in pathology.
In addition to his private practice, Wiener taught at McGill for more than 25 years and was instrumental in establishing the first dental clinic at the Jewish General Hospital, which he directed. The family are longtime members of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, but Wiener says he is not especially religious.
Wiener’s fondest memories are of his late wife. She was in high school when they met, and he was at McGill. “She was so beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed,” he recalls.
Their families summered in Val Morin, Que., and that’s where he began courting her. “It was a Friday, our mothers were preparing for Shabbat. Ella was down at the lake – she was a wonderful swimmer. I wore my McGill hockey sweater to impress her,” he says.
Wiener beckons a visitor to see photos of her in another room. He gazes fondly at a picture of her at 19, and another taken after her graduation from McGill.
Wiener’s family, which includes three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, gathered in Montreal the weekend before his birthday for a celebration. “It was really lovely,” says Lowe. “He gave a little speech. He was just thankful to everyone – his sons, his attendants.”
Besides congratulatory messages from the Queen and the prime minister, the family managed to get one from Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price, which was a special thrill for Wiener, even if he has soured on today’s puck dumping.