Dr. Arthur Schwager was an outgoing, compassionate man appreciated by his patients, who valued his knowledge and empathy, and loved by his family, who described him as “a gentle man and a gentleman.”
Schwager, a pediatrician who practiced in Huntington for 40 years, died of natural causes June 30 at home in Floral Park. He was 90.
“He liked to see people happy and doing well,” said son Richard Schwager, of Columbus, Ohio. “That was the overriding theme or ethos of his life.”
Schwager was born March 13, 1930, to immigrant parents, Isidore, a luggage maker from Poland, and Clara Schwager, a homemaker from Austria, in New York City. Raised in the Bronx, he went on to study at the City College of New York and graduated from the SUNY Downstate College of Medicine.
The family story of his meeting with Judy Beldegreen, the woman who became his wife, began at a Manhattan party Jan. 7, 1955. He asked for her phone number. She didn’t think he would call. After all, he didn't write down the number.
As it turned out, he had memorized the number — South 8-0835 — then and all his life.
They married a year later. Their son Mark Schwager described him as “an old-fashioned romantic” who always called his wife of 64 years “Judy darling.”
In the late 1950s, Schwager served in the U.S. Air Force Medical Service Corps in Georgia. A year after he returned, the family in 1960 moved to Huntington, where Schwager joined the now-defunct pediatric office of Gordon, Kagan and Schwager.
That was the start of a 40-year career during which Schwager treated thousands of children spanning generations, his family said.
“He was the pediatrician that every parent would want for their child,” said Katherine Heaviside, whose children were Schwager’s patients. “He stayed up with the latest information on medicine. So you felt confident that you were getting someone who’s very knowledgeable.”
People who knew Schwager recalled the stethoscope he wore that was decorated with trinkets of beads, bells, whistles, bracelets and buttons of cartoon characters, some of which were given to him by his young patients.
“He was always warm, always with a hug. With my husband, it was a bear hug,” said Trudy Lieberman, of Boynton Beach, Florida, whose two sons were under his care. “He was like a big teddy bear.”
Colleagues of Schwager said the 6-foot-4-inch doctor had a presence that filled up a room.
“He was a gifted physician with vigorous intellect,” said Ron Gaudreault, of Northport, former CEO of Huntington Hospital. “When he walked in a room, he oxygenated and invigorated the room.”
At home, Schwager was the attentive father who took an interest in his children’s hobbies and collected T-shirts bearing the names of the colleges his children and grandchildren attended.
Mark Schwager of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, the oldest of four children who is also a physician, recalled his father taking him to meet a butterfly collector on Long Island after finding out his son collected insects.
As a “people person,” his family said Schwager would strike up a conversation anywhere he went — a gym, gas station or convenience store.
Occasionally, the doctor would give unsolicited advice to a stranger smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk or a mother walking with a child without a hat in the hot sun.
“We were always embarrassed. But generally, they took it nicely,” Mark Schwager said. “He was just getting involved in people’s life. … He enjoyed interacting with people.”
After he retired at age 70, Schwager volunteered, traveled, played golf, made watercolor paintings, and saw opera and ballet in New York City with his wife. He also continued to read up on current affairs and the latest medical journals.
In addition to his wife and two sons, he is survived by daughters Pamela Schwager of Roslyn and Valerie Karlin of Robbinsville, New Jersey, and 11 grandchildren. A graveside service was held July 5 at the Huntington Jewish Center Cemetery.