TORONTO — After a 60-year medical career, Dr. Joseph Greenberg, affectionately called Dr. Joe by thousands of his patients and friends, has retired.
The compassionate 90-year-old general practitioner is one of a disappearing breed of physicians. He began his day at 5 a.m., cleared his desk, took his bag, and crisscrossed the city even in inclement weather, making house calls to patients who were unable to come to him because of age or disability.
He also went on hospital rounds and went back to his Toronto office at Bathurst and Ulster streets to see patients, often into the night. He was both a healer and a mentor who had the respect of his patients as well as his colleagues.
He has cared for three generations and delivered more than 3,000 babies. At the family cottage in Belle Ewart, Ont., the lineups for allergy shots and medical advice are legendary.
Among his many awards and tributes, Greenberg was honoured by Boys Town Jerusalem, where the Dr. Joseph Greenberg Centre for Health services was established in recognition of his outstanding contributions.
At the tribute dinner, he said, “I feel privileged to look after people. That is my sole reward. It is deceitful that they are paying me twice for something that I’ve already gained my reward.”
Throughout his medical career, he clung to the philosophy that every person deserves equal respect and attention, regardless of education or financial position.
During an interview with The CJN, he gave an example of what was most meaningful to him in his career.
“I went to visit an elderly woman who was hobbling with a cane as a result of major surgery. She said to me, ‘The fact that you come to visit me, you do me an honour, and this makes me know that I am still worthwhile,’” he said.
“And that encapsulates my entire philosophy,” he added.
Greenberg and his wife, Pepi (Rosenstein), have four children: David, who has practised medicine with his father; Sara Zagdanski, a community volunteer; Aaron, vice-president of Strategic Merchandising for Genumark Promotional Merchandise, and Amy Strauch, a social worker.
He says that he has never forgotten his early days. His father was a Hebrew teacher who was weakened by tuberculosis. He became a shochet.
“I brought the chickens in a bushel in a baby carriage to my father who ritually slaughtered them, and my mother stood beside him and flicked them. They got five cents for every chicken,” he recalled.
“I delivered papers that cost two cents and increased to three cents in 1938.”
He attended Central High School of Commerce and quit when he was 15 to help his family. After serving in the air force, he went back to school. At 23, he obtained his senior matriculation in five months before entering the University of Toronto medical school, from which he graduated in 1952.
He says that his devotion to the Jewish People stems from his parents, Aaron and Sima Greenberg, who despite their hardships and tragedies, passed on optimism, caring and fair play to their children.
It is the Rusishe shul, Congregation Shaarei Tzedec on Markham Avenue. and Ulster Street, which ties him to his youth.
“I remember going there with my father, and I wanted the shul to survive because I cherish the memories of the old times.”
In 1967, he personally assumed the responsibility for restoring the synagogue that was in disrepair and on the verge of bankruptcy. Throughout the years, he has continued to maintain the building and its activities.
“I am grateful that my son, David, continues our family tradition and has assumed a major role in the synagogue’s survival,” Greenberg said.
The soft spoken and gentle doctor was named the City’s Best Doctor by Toronto Life magazine and received the Ontario Medical Association’s Glen Sawyer Service Award for distinguished service to the medical profession and the community.
For many years, he was a consultant to the Ontario Boxing Commission and has been the ringside doctor for George Chuvalo, Clyde Gray and other boxers. Greenberg has been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Dr. Sandy Buchman, in his inaugural speech as president of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, expressed his appreciation to Greenberg.
“Dr. Joseph Greenberg or Dr. Joe, as most of us know him, [is] a country doctor in the city, a family doctor whom I knew as a child, who made house calls to my grandmother and just about everybody else in town, my inspiration for a career in family medicine.
“My heartfelt gratitude for all that you do and for showing me the way. You helped me make a very good choice in life.”
Greenberg’s daughter, Sara, told The CJN, “Medicine was not only a profession for my father, it was truly his calling – it’s not simply what he became, it’s who he is.”
In acknowledgement of his milestone 60 years in the medical field, the Greenberg family is inviting his friends, patients and colleagues to submit stories, memories and photos, which will be compiled into a book for Dr. Joe.
Please send them to [email protected] or to Dr. Joe’s Retirement, 619 Bathurst St., Toronto, Ont., M5S 2P8.