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Derek Smith: Many of us mourn passing of great man

Quiet dignity framed by fierce intelligence. A flame of desire to help others. A love of family scarred by the too-early loss of a young wife and mother.

These characteristics marked the life and times of Dr. Allen Lebowitz, whose recent passing leaves a void, not only in Buffalo, but in the ranks of men whose likes are fast disappearing from our world.

I had the privilege to know Allen only for the last year or so of his life, and though he already was in the lethal grasp of Parkinson’s disease, it was easy to see what a quality person he was. Sitting on his den couch, his brown eyes were still eagle-sharp, analyzing any newcomer as if he was visually examining a new patient. His mind raced in a thousand directions as he mentally evaluated me as his new caregiver. I only hoped I had passed the test.

Within days, I started work as Allen’s home-care provider, quickly realizing what this man had accomplished in his many decades of life. He had been a successful family practice physician, a “country doctor,” someone said of him. More than that, he was a healer who influenced and helped thousands of people to feel better and lead healthier lives.

Getting to know Allen, I soon realized how much he reminded me of my father, Gordon Smith, who died in South Carolina in 2011. Both were in their early 80s when they passed. Each was born amid the hardships of the Great Depression and grew into boyhood during World War II. Too young to serve, each navigated through these tumultuous years to reach manhood, work hard and raise families while taking divergent paths.

Over the past year, Allen and I grew closer. He loved his UB Bulls, especially in football and basketball. He cherished and missed his golf game, although he wasn’t able to swing a club anymore. Still, he could watch the pros on TV. He also enjoyed the crime mysteries, which he taped.

His maladies kept him confined to his couch for the most part, but he adapted to his routine of some breakfast and then settling in to read his newspapers. We went through the mail and wrote a few checks; this accomplishment always made him happy. We rarely talked about the profound tragedy of his life, his beautiful young wife, Carol, dying when their only child, Wendy, was about 8 years old. Dad and daughter persevered, however, their loss and the passing years only strengthening their bond.

No man ever loved a daughter more than Allen adored his Wendy. She was the brightest star of his life until the last of his days. As much as Wendy was his gem, his son-in-law, Michael Pressman, proved to be just as much the backbone of the family. And Allen always beamed when he got a phone call or visit from one of his granddaughters, Anna or Emily. His dog, Charlie, helped as much as anyone, always there for companionship, and of course, treats.

Still there was the dark fight that could not be won. Wendy and family did all they could, but love, medicine and compassion could not overcome age and disease. The victory for them is that nothing more could have been done to make Allen’s Oct. 2 passing as comfortable and painless as possible. I was there, along with wonderful caregivers Leslie, Angela, Kristen, Joni and others.

It was my honor to know you, Allen. I hope your wife gives you a long-awaited embrace and a kiss that lasts forever.