‘A gentle soul’: Berkeley pediatrician Elmer Grossman dies at 91

Photo of Elmer Grossman
Marshall Windmiller/Courtesy
Pediatrician Elmer Grossman left a legacy as someone who cared about his patients and valued learning about their needs through conversation rather than relying only on medical tests.

Deemed by his granddaughter Leia Tyrrell as the “most amazing man ever to have lived,” Elmer Grossman, a pediatrician at Berkeley Pediatrics, died Aug. 15 at the age of 91.

Though Grossman attended UCSF to study medicine, it was not until he served as a pediatrician after the Korean Armistice that he discovered his passion for working with kids and their families, according to his wife, Pam Grossman. The values he championed in his profession translated into his personal and professional life and left a lasting impact on those he encountered.

Throughout his career, Grossman emphasized the importance of talking to families about their needs rather than relying solely on medical tests, Pam Grossman said. In turn, these conversations developed into lifelong connections.

Both Pam Grossman and Kate Sutter, one of his granddaughters, recalled that many times, patients would approach the pediatrician on the street and strike up a conversation or envelop him in a hug just to thank him for all he had done.

“He really kept the focus on what’s right, what’s best, and he would never take shortcuts,” said Grossman’s friend and colleague Carol Cohen. “All of his patients really admired and loved him for that. You could trust what he was saying, that it was coming from the right place.”

Grossman’s passion for caring for others could be seen not only in his work at Berkeley Pediatrics, but also in his garden, Sutter said.

Spanning two acres, Grossman’s garden was his “one true love,” Sutter said. He would spend hours a day there, even up to the last two weeks of his life.

“He likes caring for people, so he loved caring for plants, and he would research them online if they were getting poor health,” Sutter said. “It was all about (that), I think, for him, just caring for other things and seeing other things thrive.”

When he was not caring for people or plants, Grossman found happiness in amateur winemaking, woodworking and addressing issues at Berkeley City Council meetings. His granddaughter Emma Sutter said Grossman saw every experience as a learning opportunity.

Though his legacy can be seen in the people who strive to emulate him and make the world a better place, Kate Sutter said she will remember him for his hugs.

“He had these famous hugs,” Kate Sutter said. “He’d take people and hug them really tight and then hold them out at arm’s length and just stare at them and smile. You thought you were probably the greatest person alive.”

Described by his cousin Tom Frankel as “a gentle soul,” Grossman died peacefully in his sleep.

Pam Grossman added that a memorial service for Grossman will be planned in the future. For now, the family asks that donations be made in his honor to the UC Botanical Garden or the American Civil Liberties Union.

Contact Veronica Roseborough at[email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @v_roseborough.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Elmer Grossman served in the Korean War. In fact, he served as a pediatrician in the Air Force after the Korean Armistice.