Kurt Elias, MD died in New York City on March 1, 2010 at the age of 91 after a brief illness.
Dr. Elias was born to Herbert Elias and Ilse von Arnim Elias in Vienna on September 3, 1918. He became Bar Mitvah at the Stadttemple in Vienna in 1931, the only Viennese Synagogue to survive the bombings during World War II. He attended Franz-Josefs Real-Gymnasium, where he received his Reifeprüfung (Matura) on June 12th, 1936. After a year in the Austrian Army, he began his medical studies at the University of Vienna, but was prevented from continuing after the Austrian Annexation (Anschluss) of March 12th, 1938, after which Jews were forbidden entrance to the University. He emigrated to the United States, leaving Austria in May of 1938 by way of England. He arrived in New York City on the Normandie during the week of Kristallnacht in November 1938. He had one suitcase and seven dollars.
He attended Southwestern Memphis College (now Rhodes College) and graduated with a BS in Science in 1939 and then earned a Masters in Anatomy in 1941. During College, he was active in the College Choir.
Dr. Elias entered Flower Fifth Avenue Medical School in Manhattan and graduated first in his class in 1944. During medical school he worked at a number of part time jobs, including as diener in a morgue and as an elevator operator. He did his internship at Mount Sinai and then a year of medical residency at Metropolitan Hospital on Welfare Island, where he met Dr. Nina Dutcher. They married in 1946.
He served as Captain in the US Army Medical Corps from 1946 through 1948, initially at Fort Sam Houston and then at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. During this time his son Peter was born. After his discharge from the army, he returned to New York and did fellowships at Mount Sinai, first in Pathology and then in Oncology before entering practice. In 1951 their daughter Joan was born. In January 1953 he joined the Montefiore Medical Group as an internist and in March of 1954 their daughter Margaret was born. While at Montefiore, he instituted joint rounds with the physicians and nursing staff on the oncology service to focus on the psychosocial needs of his patients. These became known as ‘Dr. Elias’ rounds’ and led to an active psychosocial oncology program that included visits from Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, Bruno Bettelheim and Rene Dubos.
After his divorce from Nina Dutcher in 1974, he met and married Dr. Gloria Clare in 1976.
After leaving the Montefiore Medical Group in 1993, he opened a private practice in Manhattan, and retired gradually from active practice in 2003. He served as physician (Vertrauensarzt) for the Austrian Consulate in New York for many years and received a medal (Goldenen Ehrenzeichen) in 2002 for his services.
During his lifetime, he was active in both the Austrian and American Boy Scouts as a scout and later as a leader. As a youth, he was an excellent dancer and danced the lead out waltz with his sister Hanni to open the Vienna Ball. He participated in the Austrian-American Youth, and was a member of the New York Academy of Medicine. He loved music, especially Schubert and Brahms, and played the piano. He read widely and especially enjoyed poetry, biography, history, and Greek classics.
Throughout his life, he was passionate about justice, the value of people as individuals, and the importance of honest communication and lasting relationships.
He is survived by his first wife Dr Nina Dutcher Elias, his second wife Dr. Gloria Clare, his three children Peter, Joan and Margaret and his two step-children Cathryn and Kenneth, his sister Johanna (Hanni), his niece Susan and nephew Andrew, six grand children Gretchen, Joran, Benjamin, Michael, Jonathan and Nicholas, and a great grand daughter Phoebe. (Editor's note: Kurt's sister Hanni died 9 June 2011.)
He was a remarkable man, a loving husband and devoted father, a conscientious and dedicated physician, combining both humanist and scientist, loyal and enduring friend and advisor. He will be long and deeply missed by all of us whose lives he touched.