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Dan Schwartz: Harry’s wisdom will be missed

How many people do you know who are 100 years old? Some of us are living longer these days. Genetics, environmental conditions, medical and pharmacological discoveries, and a general increase in knowledge about diet and exercise are contributing factors. If commercials and news reports are to be believed, some of the aforementioned might also be shortening some lives as well.

We recently lost my only friend to have passed the century mark, Dr. Harry Sperer. He was 106. He was also a miracle and a marvel.

About four years ago, my son, Noah, became interested in studying the American presidency. One of my proudest moments was observing Noah discussing Teddy Roosevelt with Harry in the library where I worked for a time. Harry was alive when TR was still president. He was 8 or 9 when Teddy died, about the same age as my son when they discussed TR.

In other words, as someone with a little Yiddish second language interference might say, Harry “knew from Teddy Roosevelt.” Harry shared my son’s enthusiasm for studying history and current events. My son will be able to tell folks ages hence he discussed that era with a man alive when TR trod the planet.

Up until very recently, Harry read The Buffalo News, cover to cover, every day. When one of my guest columns or articles would appear, he made a point of dropping by the library to discuss it even though I thought there were many better things for us to discuss.

These discussions sometimes ended with our walking down the hall to the daily minyan room for afternoon and evening services, where Harry often led those services past the age of 100. He always did a great job, and although you probably shouldn’t compare such participation, Harry put many of us younger folk to shame with the quality of his davening.

Besides politics, we also discussed lots of other stuff, including music and science. Sometimes we’d even discuss his success with longevity. Harry said when he turned 75 he decided to try to live to be 100. He thoroughly researched the subject and consulted physicians. He reduced his intake to one meal per day. He also consumed some fruit, including apricots, prunes and the like.

After his funeral service, my son and I decided to celebrate Harry’s life by getting a doughnut. We joked about how we had lots of time to continue eating doughnuts until we became 75 and adopted Harry’s regimen.

My son once asked him what event he remembered the most. Instead of discussing world history, Harry stated, “My retirement.” Although he was having a little trouble with one of his hands when he retired, he occasionally opined that he thought he had retired too early. Harry, a podiatrist, retired at age 91. At the time, he was the oldest practicing physician in all of North America.

Until recently, Harry also continued to drive past the age of 100. He was still that sharp. When there were icy conditions, Harry would sometimes grab my elbow and I would steady him across the parking lot. I was worried about his driving, and one day I followed him. He drove fine. Others told me they followed him and came to the same conclusion.

Over the past couple of years I lost touch with Harry. I feel bad about that. I changed synagogues, got busier and Harry finally entered a senior center. If you know anyone even a tenth as wonderful as Harry, do the world and yourself a big favor. Stop by and catch up.