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Dr. Louis Lazar, an 'old country doctor' practicing in the city, dies at 98

Dr. Louis Lazar stamped his own personal style on his family practice office on Peoria Street in the city’s Black Rock-Riverside area for nearly six decades.

Patients never made appointments. They were treated on a first-come, first-served basis, after walking up half a flight of stairs, taking a deli-like number and sitting in a waiting room with couches and chairs. He treated them all, until the last patient had been seen.

“If people couldn’t pay in cash, $2 or $3, they would bring in fruits or vegetables from their gardens,” Dr. Robin Miller said of her father's early years practicing medicine.

And Dr. Lazar made house calls, with his little black bag, until the 1970s, paying any of his three children a nickel or dime to accompany him.

“He was like an old country doctor in a big city like Buffalo,” Miller said. “He never wanted to change.”

Dr. Lazar, a family practice physician and former chairman of the Department of Family Practice at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine, died Friday in his North Buffalo home. He was 98.

His legacy has continued long after his retirement, at the two Louis Lazar Family Medicine Centers – on Hertel Avenue and on Maple Road in Amherst – where new medical residents are trained and some of his 15,000 former patients continue to be seen, his family said. He retired in 2006 at age 87.

An Eden native, Dr. Lazar never was sure of his birthdate. He was born in an Eden farmhouse, across from a kazoo factory, during a crippling snowstorm. Either the storm or a mix-up with the Jewish calendar prevented the doctor from reporting his birth until Jan. 23, 1919. His family believes he may have been born as early as Jan. 5.

Dr. Lazar graduated from Fosdick-Masten High School in 1937, before earning his bachelor’s degree from UB. He graduated from Chicago Medical School in the mid-1940s, completing his medical residencies at the Cook County Hospital and the old Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo.

His medical career was interrupted briefly at the end of the Korean War era, when he served with the U.S. Army Medical Corps in Germany from 1953 to 1955.

Back in Buffalo as a physician, Dr. Lazar worked  for years to preserve the family practice model at both Millard Fillmore Hospital and UB medical school. He practiced for 57 years.

During his more than half-century as a physician working with families, Dr. Lazar also delivered thousands of babies, including three generations of some families.

He left another legacy, helping establish an international residency-exchange program between China and Buffalo, through Millard Fillmore Hospital, in 1981. Dr. Lazar negotiated that agreement with Dr. George Hatem (later named Ma Haide), a South Buffalo native, former “Father Baker Boy” and leading public health figure in China under Mao Tse-tung. Dr. Lazar also delivered drug samples to African countries.

After his retirement 11 years ago, Dr. Lazar remained in demand. Some former patients who called him at home and learned where he had gone even chased him into the aisles of Wegmans for informal medical consultations. Described by family members as a true “people person,” Dr. Lazar  took the time to help.

“He touched so many lives in so many ways,” Miller said of her father. “He trained so many doctors in this area and kept them here.”

Dr. Lazar and his wife, Marjorie, were accomplished world travelers, visiting every continent but Antarctica.

“There had to be an opera house in every city we went,” his wife said.

He was a passionate supporter and season-ticket holder for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Bills and the Sabres. An avid golfer, he once notched a hole-in-one at the former Westwood Country Club.

Surviving are his wife of 68 years, the former Marjorie Skerker; two daughters, Dr. Robin Miller and Alyse Lazar; one son, Dr. Eliot Lazar; and six grandchildren.

Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Temple Beth Zion, 805 Delaware Ave.

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