Posted on: June 24, 2019
Dr. Martin Sternstein, age 97, a great man, a wonderful father, husband, a respected physician, who became the “Doctor to the Stars” because of his charming manner, incredible intelligence, quick wit, observational perceptiveness, willingness to listen, empathy and integrity died peacefully in Monterey, California the morning of May 31, 2019.
Dr. Sternstein was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1922. His parents, Jacob and Anna Sternstein, Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, emigrated via Ellis Island in 1918. In 1939, he graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School with academic honors. He attended Union Community College at night after working a full-day shift in a shirt factory.
With the outbreak of World War II, Dr. Sternstein enlisted in the Army. Prior to being deployed to Europe, his commanding officer offered him the opportunity to sit for intelligence testing. His test scores were off-the-chart high and the Army selected him to attend dental or engineering school. Dr. Sternstein elected to stay with his mechanized tank division. The following year he was again offered intelligence testing, again scored off-the-chart high, but this time he was offered the opportunity to attend medical school. He accepted.
Having completed two years of community college, the Army sent him to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to take several prerequisite medical school courses. It was there at Rutgers that he met the former Phyllis Davidson, who was a student at nearby Douglass College. Phyllis Davidson was the daughter of Abraham and Dora Davidson of Highland Park, Jewish immigrants from Poland and Hungary, and owners of the Davidson Brothers Grocery Store.
Dr. Sternstein began medical school at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville in the summer of 1945. At the same time, Phyllis Davidson commenced her Master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Richmond. The following year, on June 23, 1946, they were married in Newark, New Jersey and had four children, Karen, Edward, Cathy, and Amy.
Although having limited pre-medical school preparation, in 1949, Dr. Sternstein graduated number three in his medical school class and was selected into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, which honored scholastic achievement, professionalism, leadership, adherence to ethical standards, fairness, achievement in medicine, and a record of service to school and community.
After medical school, Dr. Sternstein completed his internship and residency at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City and became board-certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology. After his internship and residency, he returned to active duty as a Captain in the Air Force. After being discharged in Long Beach, Phyllis and Marty and their children moved to West Los Angeles.
To cultivate his burgeoning medical practice, Dr. Sternstein conducted high-value life insurance medical exams. Because of Dr. Sternstein’s diagnostic acuity, thoroughness, genuinely caring bedside manner and respect for privacy and confidentiality, many insurance exam clients became his regular patients including Johnny Carson, Bud and CeCe Robinson and many other well-known public personalities. This is how Dr. Sternstein acquired his nickname, “Doctor to the Stars.” Even as his celebrity practice grew, he always remembered his humble beginnings and continued to treat many of his Yiddish speaking patients who “paid” with baked goods.
In 1989, at age 67, after practicing medicine full-time for 40 years, Dr. Sternstein decided to step back from the rigors of his solo medical practice – including night and weekend phone and house-calls. Yes, Dr. Sternstein still made house calls. With his wife, Dr. Barbara Stokely (PhD Psychology, Stanford) they moved to a small cottage house, a short walk to the beach in Pebble Beach, California.
Not ready to completely retire, Dr. Sternstein continued with insurance exams. In his seventies and eighties, Dr. Sternstein still conducted over 200 house-call exams annually. In 2013, at age 91, after 64 years of being one of the best and brightest, Dr. Sternstein elected to retire a second time.
After his wife, Barbara, suffered a stroke, they elected to move into the Park Lane Retirement Community in Monterey. His beloved wife of 35 years, Barbara, died September 10, 2018.
For 97½ years, Dr. Sternstein has been an inspiration to everyone that has had the privilege of knowing him. His integrity, his decency and fairness, his dedication to excellence, his discipline, his work ethic, his independence, his thoughtfulness, his tolerance, and his profound respect and love for his family, friends, patients, acquaintances and strangers has made the world a better place. He will be missed.
Dr. Sternstein was very generous with his time and money. He donated to numerous charities. His favorites included: the B’nai B’rith Foundation, Planned Parenthood, the Salvation Army, CARE California, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the University of Virginia.
Dr. Martin Sternstein is survived by his former wife, Phyllis Davidson Sternstein Lavitt, their children, Karen Sternstein, Ed Sternstein and his wife, Cathy Sternstein and her significant other Jim Kaplan, Amy Sternstein and her significant other Greg Beaulieu, his nine grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. He is also survived by his step-children from his marriage to Barbara Stokely, Janet and Leon Mayou and Tom Stokely.
(Dr. Sternstein is seen here with his daughter, Amy Sternstein, MD ’86)