Posted on: January 8, 2021
Norman M. Rosenbaum, MD, passed away peacefully at his home on Dec. 19, 2020, with his wife Marjorie by his side. Throughout his 90 years, Norman embraced values that made him a joy to be with — curiosity, rare kindness, generosity of spirit, service to others, and deep humility. He leaves behind an indelible footprint on the world and will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
Born in Brooklyn, New York Nov. 7, 1930, Norman’s life was immediately shaped by the Great Depression. Parents Leona and Saul moved their small family to Norfolk, Virginia so Norman could remain in the care of his grandmother, Mama Minnie, while they searched for work. Norman thrived in this small city, working hard for his grades and developing a deep love of basketball, tennis, and other sports. His enthusiasm for athletics was not without its challenges. On days when he was missing from Hebrew school, the patient rabbi would call home to ask, “What ballfield will I find Norman on today?” Nevertheless, Norman became a bar mitzvah on schedule to his family’s — and the rabbi’s — relief and delight.
Early on, he aspired to a career in medicine and studied hard to achieve entry to Duke University for his pre-med studies. Norman did not gain acceptance to the University of Virginia School of Medicine right away. Undeterred, he studied law for two years before becoming a doctoral candidate at UVA, where his appreciation and reverence for the human body deepened. During this time, Norman married and became a loving father to daughter Sherry and son Scott. He earned his MD degree in 1958, and immediately served his country as a physician for the U.S. Air Force in Reno, Nevada.
Medicine came naturally to Norman, and his warmth and gentleness immediately put patients at ease. As a medical resident following his Air Force service, he had the good fortune to experience health care practice in all its forms, from profoundly impoverished settings in the rural countryside to the most sophisticated operating room suites on the West Coast. Early in his career, a proud West Virginia father thanked Norman for delivering his wife’s newborn with a shotgun as payment, a memento Norman kept throughout his life before passing it along to a friend. This was only one of many meaningful moments he recalled as a newly minted doctor. In a favorite Ohio State residency story, Norman spoke about caring for a woman in labor and anxiously awaiting the obstetrician scheduled for the delivery. The obstetrician arrived and baby was delivered without incident, but the father rushed in late, delayed by a golf tournament. To everyone’s surprise, Dad promptly passed out after seeing mother and newborn, and Norman was called to provide treatment to the new father…golf legend Jack Nicklaus!
Although he began his medical residency at Ohio State, Norman accepted Stanford University School of Medicine’s invitation to continue his residency there. He achieved distinction for his medical talent, serving on the heart transplantation team of Dr. Norman Shumway, an international pioneer in what was then the emerging and hopeful field of transplantation surgery. In addition to Norman Shumway and Norman Rosenbaum, two other men named Norman served on this prestigious team, affectionately referred to by colleagues as “the four Normans.” During his time at Stanford, Norman also mentored students as Assistant Professor of Anesthesia, and volunteered for several medical missions to Honduras.
Service was important to Norman, and he was gratified to improve the lives of Honduran children by surgically repairing their cleft palates alongside a team of dedicated healthcare professionals. Although his credentials were as impressive as they were long, Norman was exceptionally humble. The stories he shared of his medical career were not about degrees and achievements, but rather the quiet moments in which he made a difference to an individual patient or family member.
Norman’s essence is reflected in brief anecdotes, such as when he patiently attended to a woman in a long-term coma during his anesthesia residency. Despite her condition, he always spoke to her soothingly throughout procedures, letting her know what would come next and that she was safe. When the woman finally awoke, she heard Norman speaking in the hall and immediately recognized the voice of the kind physician who had cared for her. After leaving Stanford University and heading up the anesthesiology department at Kaiser Permanente’s South San Francisco Medical Center, Norman returned to the East Coast and settled in Maine. He opened his first private practice in Bath, and then served full-time for nearly ten years as one of three physicians in Bath Iron Work’s medical clinic. He had enormous respect for the shipbuilders, and was a strong advocate for their occupational health and safety during his many years there.
Throughout his life Norman remained an ardent lover of sports, and a return to Maine meant skiing. On a gorgeous Sunday in March of 1993, Norman met a fellow skiing enthusiast named Marjorie in front of the lodge at Pleasant Mountain, and after a half day of enjoying the slopes together, tucked his business card into her ski bag when she wasn’t looking. They were married five years later, and lived together in New Mexico where Norman had been recruited to work as an occupational medicine physician for his next professional chapter. New Mexico brought a whole new dimension to Norman’s life. He discovered stone sculpture, first as a way to pass time outside of his professional work, then as a serious artist studying under Rollie Grandbois, the noted Chippewa stone carver from Jemez Springs. Norman was well known for his carvings of polar bears, and exhibited his work at galleries in both New Mexico and Maine. He was honored to accept two invitations to complete an artistic residency at Westport Island through a program supported by the Robert McNamara Foundation, and enjoyed the experience of being with numerous artists working in a variety of artistic mediums. Norman quickly established a stone carving shop in his Scarborough home when he and Marjorie permanently returned to Maine, and proudly shared his craft as a mentor to others.
Norman, whose life was noted for its richness and accomplishments, was perhaps most impressive for his humility. To Norman, quietly living with character and being a model for others was the essence of a good life. In retirement, Norman volunteered as a physician for Seeds of Peace and Beach to Beacon, and provided respite support for hospice patients. He enjoyed warm friendships in his later years, in particular with his “across-the-street” neighbors Carol and Ted, who frequently invited Norman and Marjorie to dinner and often served his favorite meal, Ted’s carrot soufflé and Carol’s jello dessert. Norman showed gratitude through frequent handwritten notes, expressing appreciation for a holiday light display or penning a thoughtful thank you when a neighbor’s son mowed his lawn well. Quite simply, Norman always had a kind word. His large community of family, friends, and colleagues will remember him with enduring fondness.
Norman is survived by his wife Marjorie of Scarborough; daughter Sherry (Rosenbaum) Koehl and her husband, Hanno, of Belleville, Ill.; granddaughter Heidi Koehl Weaver (Bryson) of Wood River, Ill.; and son Scott Rosenbaum of Colorado; along with Marjorie’s daughters and son, their spouses and grandchildren, all of whom he treasured. He was predeceased by grandson Peter White. The family would like to extend its heartfelt thanks to The Girls at HomeCare, who provided compassionate in-home support to Norman and Marjorie during the final months of Norman’s life.