Dr. Morris Shapiro, URMC Clinician and Educator, Dies at 102

Feb. 25, 2016

The University of Rochester Medical Center is mourning the loss of one of its longtime faculty members. Morris J. Shapiro, M.D., a professor of Emergency Medicine and professor emeritus of Surgery, died Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. He was 102.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, Feb. 29, at Temple Beth El, 139 S. Winton Road, Rochester. The family will receive friends from 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Monday at the Summit at Brighton, 2000 Summit Circle Drive.

Dr. Shapiro was the oldest active faculty member at the University of Rochester Medical Center. As recently as last month he was still participating in the education of residents and medical students, attending lectures and presenting grand rounds.

He leaves a lasting legacy as a revered physician, colleague, mentor and friend to so many in this community, said Michael F. Kamali, M.D., chair of the URMC Department of Emergency Medicine.

“Dr. Shapiro had a never-ending love of teaching and learning, and throughout his career and to the very end of his life, he was always curious and inquisitive,” Kamali said. “To those of us in medicine, he constantly reminded us that we are caring for people with particular diseases and conditions, not just treating a disease. His passion for medicine and his philosophy of compassionately caring for each individual continues to inform how we practice.”

A native Rochesterian, Dr. Shapiro was born Oct. 21, 1913. He received a full scholarship and attended the University of Rochester in the first class on River Campus. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in just three years with a bachelor’s degree in Biology in 1933, using his fourth year to earn a master’s degree in Chemistry. He went on to attend medical school at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, graduating in 1938.

He began practicing medicine as a military surgeon in the U.S. Army during World War II, serving in Africa and Italy. He led the surgical team of the 16th Evacuation Hospital in Northern Africa and Italy.

It was during the war that Dr. Shapiro met his wife, Miriam, who was a nurse serving on a ship sent to support the Allied troops. When her ship was sunk off the Italian coast, she and the surviving nurses rowed ashore and went ahead and set up their hospital. After the war, Mrs. Shapiro taught biology at the University of Rochester and maintained incredible scientific interests that included many travels.

Dr. Shapiro worked at Rochester General, Genesee and Strong Memorial hospitals. He established Rochester’s first free clinic for the early detection of breast cancer. He served as a general surgeon in the URMC Department of Surgery until his “retirement” 30 years ago, when he began work in Emergency Medicine, practicing and most recently teaching through January of this year.

Colleagues recall Dr. Shapiro as a gifted clinician who had extraordinary rapport with patients and equally impressive technical skill in the operating room.

“It made him a great teacher, with broad knowledge of medicine, surgery and human nature,” said colleague and close friend Joel Pasternack, M.D., Ph.D., professor Clinical Emergency Medicine, who met Dr. Shapiro in 1979 when Pasternack was a resident in training,

“Morrie demonstrated all the characteristics we’re teaching the medical students today – medical knowledge and technical skill, but also respect for colleagues and other health care professionals, and sensitivity to patient and family needs.”

His outlook on life and his work made him a role model for all who knew him. “You don't get to be 100 being negative, but by looking on the bright side, giving others the benefit of the doubt, and doing your best every day,” Pasternack said.

Dr. Shapiro served the community throughout his life. He provided generous support and leadership for numerous organizations, including the Jewish Home of Rochester, the Jewish Community Center and the United Way of Rochester. He has an operating room named in his honor in Tel Aviv, Israel, and a conference room at the University of Rochester.

In celebration of his 100th birthday, Dr. Shapiro created the endowed Miriam F. and Morris J. Shapiro M.D. Resident Growth and Education Award, given to residents who exemplify a passion for learning and a dedication to growth in the knowledge of the Emergency Department.

Predeceased by his wife, Miriam, in 2003, Dr. Shapiro is survived by his daughters, Donna and Barbara, and his grandchildren, Jessica, Marissa and Kate.