Remembering. . . Dr. Bob
When Dorothy asked if I’d write something about my grandfather, the late "Doctor Bob Salasin," I hesitated- for about a year! "Dr. Bob" loomed too large and wonderful for this adoring granddaughter to ever capture in print. I grew up thinking the guy was famousso many lives had been touched by his that people practically forced favors on us wherever we went: treats after the Strand, front of the line at Dragon House or Pierre's, unlimited rides on Sportland, and my own tab at Snuffy's.
Despite the demands of his career, "Dr. Bob" reveled in the role of grandfather- preparing his "silver dollar" pancakes on the weekend and arranging family photos with his classic-"Everyone say, PEPPERONI!"
So as a granddaughter, first- and writer, second- I took the easy way out. I brought a tape recorder to the most recent Salasin family reunion so that you and I could eaves drop on those who knew Dr. Bob best:
"He called on the phone one day," says Sister Agnes Marie, a retired nurse from Mercy Hospital in Sea Isle City. " 'I'm Bob Salasin,' he said introducing himself, 'And I have five children who have developed a very bad habit of eating... so I need a job.'"
"He was always funny," says Sister Agnes, who worked with Dr. Bob at Mercy from 1956 until it closed in 1968. "But what I remember about him most was his exceptional kindness to patients. He would always wait- maybe for lab work for an emergency patient- or for a family to arrive- and he always had time to sit down to tell them how the patient was doing;
what had been done; and what to expect. That was unusual."
"His first patients (at his office on Atlantic Avenue in North Wildwood) were the Konides family," recalls Dr. Bob's oldest son, Dr. Robert I. Salasin of Stone Harbor."I remember Little Nicky coming over to play with my mother (Lila). She was the receptionist and the nurse at the office when it opened."
"I remember going there on my bicycle," says Reverend Jeffery Salasin, the youngest of Dr. Bob's five children.
"He was only a baby, he wouldn't remember anything," says brother Robert.
"Yah, I would go down to the office in the summer time," says Jeff.
"No you didn't." says Robert.
"And one time, I went in there," Jeff continues, clearly overriding his brother's objections," And there was a woman who was 'disrobed'."
"It's called naked," says Dr. Robert.
"It was an old lady, and I thought I was going to get yelled at, but my dad just said, 'Jeffrey what do you want?'
" 'I'm looking for money for sodas,' I told him. I'd come all the way from the Crest with a couple of kids. So he sent me to the wooden bowl in his desk drawer. Remember that bowl?" Jeff asks nostalgically. "No," says Robert flatly.
"Dad had a wooden bowl, and he said to me, 'There are coins in there, take whatever you need, and don't come back in here when you come to the office, just go get the money in the bowl.'"
"Dad wouldn't say that," says Robert.
"Yah, he did," says Jeff.
"He just told you to go into the wooden bowl, anytime!?"
"I don't think so."
"I got away with all kinds of things," says Jeff, clearly enjoying his ability to torment
his oldest brother.
"He was spoiled; He and Barbara were spoiled," says Robert of Jeff and their sister (who was unable to make it to the reunion this year).
"So, I'm happy and spoiled, and he's bitter and resentful," says Jeff.
"That's why he needed to go to church a lot. It was his only chance to be really
good," says Robert.
"There were no chances for me. I was too bad. I had to be bailed out by someone who was going to die for me." says Reverend Jeff, lowering his voice into ministerly authority to drown out his brother's jibes. "You have to understand, we can't help but argue; We're made out of the same cloth."
"What cloth! It was a sperm and an egg!" says Dr. Robert.
Both Dr. Robert I. Salasin (the junior) and "Dr. Bob" Salasin (the senior) attended Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. After serving in the Army like his father and grandfather, Dr. Robert I. Salasin (the junior) returned to Cape May County in 1978 to join his father's practice. "Everyone advised against it," says Robert. "'They said, 'Do you like your father? Because if you go into partnership, you're going to hate each other.'"
"But it was perfect, really perfect," says Robert. "He was this cool, easy-going, interesting
guy who loved learning new things; and I loved learning old things."
The father/son practice at Burdette Tomlin Hospital was very successful (once the patients stopped asking for "Old Doctor Bob"), but unfortunately it didn't last long. "Dad went and wrecked everything," says Robert, referring to the major stroke his father suffered while undergoing open heart surgery in 1981- an event that abruptly ended Dr. Bob's career and radically reshaped his life.
"Life isn't always fair," said Dr. Bob in an interview with his grandchildren in his later years. "But it's not ours to choose. We have to take life as it's given to us, and be happy to be alive each day."
Dr. Bob credited the end of work as physician with the rightful reordering of his priorities,"The guy upstairs said I went too far with that business. Now, family is number one for me."
Despite his diminished capacities, Dr. Bob embraced his forced retirement, taking long walks, spending time with his wife Judi in their home in Florida, and enjoying the neighboring company of his brother David and vacationing family and friends. He was deeply grateful for this period of his life, joking that he kept up with medicine by watching
General Hospital in the afternoons (a ritual for which more than one granddaughter recalls snuggling beside him).
To his grandchildren, Dr Bob is remembered less as a physician and more for the day to day love and antics he provided: teasing every waitress with his "orange juice song", taking his false teeth out at the table, adorning himself with yellow floatation weights in his daily water aerobics regime, and saying, "Kiss you! I don't even know you," whenever anyone asked for a tissue. The oldest of us still recall the opened box of tootsie pops on the shelf at his office; the late night calls from the boardwalk or hospital; and the site of his black leather bag by the back door at the house on Pacific Avenue in Wildwood Crest.
In becoming a physician, Dr. Bob followed in the footsteps of his own father, Dr. Samuel Lyon Salasin, who practiced general medicine in Atlantic City and served as the County Health Officer there for 45 years. Samuel and his wife, Johanna Burke, a nurse (whose father was also a health officer), hosted many important dinners at their Pacific Avenue home- complete with visiting dignitaries, local politicians, and other community leaders during Atlantic City's heyday. Johanna was a vivacious hostess, and it is from his mother that Dr. Bob inherited his great charm and generosity.
"Meals at Nana's were like no other," says John Salasin of his grandmother Johanna. "A typical everyday breakfast was three or four pounds of sausage, three or four pounds of bacon, a couple dozen eggs, pancakes, english muffins, french toast... She could have fed five people for every person there!"
Sister Agnes Marie, a lifetime friend of the Salasin family, also speaks of Johanna's gracious spirit, "She was equally involved in both the Jewish Ladies Society and the Catholic Women's Society, hosting them both often. Each spring, she would decorate one side of the house for the Christian celebration and the other side for the Jewish holiday."
Dr Bob's mother Johanna was Catholic, and his father Samuel, a Jew, which meant they were unable to marry in the church as had been his mother's heartfelt wish. In fact, Johanna had been told that since she had married outside of her faith , she could no longer receive communion nor be buried in the Catholic Cemetery. When she was hospitalized in her later years following a major stroke, she confided her grief to Nurse Sister Agnes who arranged for a clergy to visit her. "Johanna and Samuel were married by a priest in Room 4 at Mercy Hospital," recalls Sister Agnes with a satisfied smile. The tradition of combining one faith and another, continued into the next generation as Dr. Bob and his wife Lila (an equally vivacious hostess) served a huge Jewish brunch each Easter after attending services across the street at Crest Community (where son Jeffrey now presides). After Lila's death, Dr. Bob and his second wife Judi, continued this blending of faiths, enjoying a seder dinner each Holy Thursday before going to Mass.
"I believe there is one God, one God for all people, for all religions- Jewish, Catholic, Islamic..." said Doctor Bob in an interview with his grandchildren. He joked that he was covering "all his bases" before he died, adding a Holy Cross (a gift from his wife Judi) to the Jewish star he'd worn for ages.
This weaving together of traditionally held opposites appears over and over again in the family history. The most recent Salasin reunion included both new and exspouses, and the children from both, as well as in-laws and family friends. It took place at the home of Judith Salasin, Dr. Bob's second wife, who is now remarried. She and
her husband, Joseph Yuzzi, created a vineyard on their Cape May Court House property with the support of Jim Salasin, Dr Bob's second son, a Wildwood Restauranteur. Both the Salasins and the Yuzzis (over a hundred in all) came together to dedicate the vineyard in the memory of Dr. Bob, and Jessie Yuzzi, Joe's mother.
At the end of an event-filled day, everyone gathered around a campfire under a starlit sky. "You know the greatest thing my Bobby left me was you," says Judi of her 'step' family and the grandchildren in particular. "That doesn't always happen when someone dies."
It is truly amazing to see Dr. Bob's legacy in his grandchildren and great- grandchildren.
After toasting marshmallows and oohing at fireworks, the littlest Salasins are tucked into sleeping bags alongside the vineyard where a dozen tents have been erected. A band plays into the night, and the younger adults (and the young at heart) sit around the fire into the wee hours, singing and talking. "He would have loved this, wouldn't he," says Judi of her late husband.
Dr. Bob's last celebration with family was on the occasion of his 72 birthday, and was quite a serendipitous gathering- as told by his third son John. "Each of us (Robert, Jim and I), independent of each other, decided
to fly down and see Dad for his birthday that year. Do you know what the odds were of getting us all in the same room at the same time in that part of our life!" says John who followed a successful career at DuPont with another in real estate. "Well, we all showed up in Lauderdale and because we were flying out on the 17th, we celebrated Dad's birthday the night before with both Judi and Sister Agnes. We had cake and everything. And the next morning Dad wakes up and dies- on his birthday, on the exact reciprocal of his birth year (11-17-19 and 11-17-91). And the other crazy thing is that Jimmy had already left for the airport, but about a half an hour later, a car pulls up and he gets out."
Jim Salasin remembers the morning of November 17, 1991 well, "Dad woke early to see me off. We kissed good-bye and I remember that I didn't say, 'I love you,' because that would have meant it was final. I wanted there to be a next time. When my flight was canceled I headed back to the house, eager to have another chance to tell Dad how much he meant to me. When I got there, they all met me on the lawn with the news."
"I remember Dad asking me if the Eagles game was going to be on," says Robert of that morning. "When I checked and told him that it wasn't, he said he was going in for a nap."
"I think he would have at least waited till half time if the game had been on," says all three of the brothers about the timing of their father's passing.
"I couldn't have asked for children any better than the ones I have," said Dr. Bob in an interview, about his beloved daughter Barbara, and his sons, Robert, Jim, John and Jeffrey. I'm know they feel the same
way about him, as do so many whose lives were touched by his.
There is a precious, if not peculiar intimacy, in the life of a doctor's family. Dr. Robert I. Salasin (my father) operated on "Dr. Bob" in the months before his passing, and was the physician who pronounced his father
dead after attempting to resuscitate him the morning of his birthday. "Let him go, Bob," his
brother John whispered through their tears.
There are countless such intimacies with those whose lives have been entwined with ours over the years. My grandfather delivered my childhood friend, took out her tonsils, operated on her father, and cared for her mother when she was dying. Growing up in Cape May County, there wasn't a family I met who didn't have a story to share about his kind and tender care.
Whether I was in the checkout line at the grocery store, filling up at the gas station, or being introduced at a party- once my name was overheard, some ‘loved one’ would always stop to ask, “Are you related to Dr. Salasin?”
To which I would humbly reply, “Yes, he was my grandfather.”
Kelly Salasin was born at Mercy Hospital in Sea Isle; later accompanying her "Poppop" there during his rounds. A special thanks to the sisters for milk and cookies, and to the man in the lobby who taught her to snap her fingers. Kelly lives in Vermont with her husband Casey Deane and their boys Lloyd and Aidan.
Dr. Bob on the steps of his childhood home in
Atlantic City where his father, Dr. Samuel Salasin,
Dr. Salasin’s Office at 1811 Atlantic Ave.,
Dr. Bob taking a call in the early days of his
practice in North Wildwood.
Dr. Bob, far left, with fellow students at Jefferson
Medical College in Philadelphia
Dr. Bob and Lila Salasin
who first met at Rutgers College
Dr. Bob and wife Lila relaxing in their home on
Pacific Avenue in Wildwood Crest.
Dr. Bob's children, L-R: Robert, Barbara, Jeff, Jim, and John
with maternal grandparents, Amos and Mildred Burrows.
One of the many backyard gatherings with the Salasin grandchildren.