Dr. Ephraim Engleman going strong at age 100
Sam Whiting, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, March 21, 2011
Thursday is Dr. Ephraim Engleman's birthday and you'd think he might take the day off work, maybe practice on the Stradivarius or the Guarneri. A 100th birthday comes around only so often, even for the unstoppable Eph.
"I have every intention of being in my office; why not?" he says, as if the suggestion is slightly insulting, like asking whether he would ever consider retirement.
"I think retirement, generally speaking, is a great mistake," says Engleman, who joined the faculty at UCSF in 1948 as the first director of the Clinic for Arthritis, a disease that, by the way, he does not suffer from. When he's not in his sixth-floor office at the UCSF Parnassus campus, he's in his home office in San Mateo, burning up the fax line, sending orders to Marie Ducousso, his assistant.
Asked whether he has a computer, he calls to Ducousso, who comes running in. "She's my computer," he says.
If 63 years at a job position seems to you like a long time, it doesn't to him.
He's been around so long that he has a granddaughter who is a doctor, as are both of his sons. The elder, Dr. Philip Engleman, has already retired as senior pathologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Jose.
"Against my advice. Terrible mistake," says his dad.
Engleman has been asked so many times to share his key to longevity that back on his 95th birthday, he printed up a tip sheet.
"Marie, give me those 10 commandments for longevity," he says. "I still adhere to these rules."
Among things he recommends are to choose the right parents, choose the right spouse, do crossword puzzles and, above all else, keep breathing. Among the things he recommends against are traveling by air, taking vitamins, falling down and doing the type of activity that leads to falling down.
"I don't exercise," he says. "That's one of the commandments."
'Enjoy your work'
Almost as important as not exercising is not watching what you eat. Right up there, too, at Commandment No. 3: "Enjoy your work, whatever it is, or don't do it."
Being a physician was Engleman's second choice. He wanted to be a concert violinist and was a child prodigy growing up in San Jose, the son of a "hock shop" operator. Back then, the population of greater San Jose was maybe 25,000 and if you needed to get in touch with one of them you took the ear piece off its hook and barked into the wall piece, whereupon the operator placed your call.
What is now Silicon Valley was apricot orchards celebrated every spring with "a glorious blossom festival," says Engleman, whose interest in the great outdoors never went beyond that.
By the time he was 16, he was in the orchestra pit playing along to the silent movies. He played at the grand opening, in 1927, of the Fox California Theatre in San Jose and went on to lead the house orchestra. That building has been completely renovated.
Engleman himself has not been renovated. He wears hearing aids, and spinal stenosis has brought his height down from 6-foot-1 to 5-foot-9. But he's outlasted everybody and everything, including his brand of car, the Cadillac Eldorado.
"They don't make them anymore. I'm furious," says Engleman, who has 155,000 miles on the Caddy he drives to work.
The only one who seems capable of making a run at his record for longevity is his wife, Jean. Earlier this month, they held a meeting of "the 70-95-100 Club." It is tougher to get into than the Pacific-Union Club. The membership criterion is that one spouse has to be 100, the other 95, and the 70th anniversary must have come and gone.
As newlyweds they were living in Boston, while Engleman was training in rheumatology, when Pearl Harbor got hit, on Dec. 7, 1941. Engleman served at "the Battle of Palm Springs," he says, as Chief of the Army's Rheumatic Fever Center.
After the war, he joined the clinical faculty at UCSF, and when asked the highlight of his career he says, "Does the name Rosalind Russell mean anything to you?" Then he points to pictures behind his desk of the classy, brassy movie star from the black-and-white era.
Disabled by rheumatoid arthritis, which is the chronic form that deforms the hands and feet, Russell became the country's foremost spokesperson for the disease. When she died, in 1976, Congress mandated that a national institution be set up in her name. Engleman had been chairman of the National Commission on Arthritis, and he had the pull to establish the Rosalind Russell Medical Research Center for Arthritis at UCSF, though she was never treated here and never lived in San Francisco.
When Engleman began his career, treatment for rheumatic diseases consisted of aspirin, bed rest and physical therapy. Patients arrived in wheelchairs and on gurneys. Now they walk in, due largely to drug treatments developed at the Rosalind Russell Center, which has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health as the top arthritis research center in the country.
There are three research labs affiliated with the center, and 30 research doctors and 70 full-time technicians and assistants work there. As the only director the center has known in its 32 years, Engleman primarily has administrative duties, including raising private funds to offset cuts in government support.
But he still sees patients three days a week. On this day it is Teresa Hurley, who is half his age.
Engleman follows the patient into an examining room, where he pulls up a wooden stool that looks like it came off the set of a '50s family sitcom. "Let's have a look at those lovely hands," he says.
When Hurley, 52, first saw Engleman, "it was love at first sight," she says. He was already in his late 70s and she wondered how much longer he would be around. She no longer wonders. "He's probably going to go on forever."
But Ducousso won't. She has been with him 22 years and plans to retire in three. Then Engleman will have to train a new computer.
Long life and a healthy one
Here are Dr. Ephraim Engleman's 10 tips for living as long as he has:
1. Be sure to select parents with the right genes.
2. Choose the right spouse. Encourage sex. Children are an option.
3. Enjoy your work, whatever it is, or don't do it.
4. Exercise if you must.
5. Avoid vitamins and other "nutrients."
6. Have many interests, i.e., music, reading, writing and crossword puzzles.
7. Avoid air travel. Travel by car instead; it's more exciting.
8. Don't fall.
9. Avoid heart attacks, stroke, cancer, arthritis. When convenient, see a doctor, especially a rheumatologist.
10. Be happy and lucky. Also, keep breathing; that helps you keep young. But most important, observe No. 1, above.