When we look at a person’s life, and try to evaluate it, what do we use for measurements? We ask questions like these:
Was the person good and moral and kind?
Did the person love and was the person loved in return?
Did the person accomplish something worthwhile? Was the person fulfilled?
Did the person know happiness?
I stand here at Martin Sumner’s funeral and it is an honor to be here and I can proudly without any qualifications say “Yes” to all of those questions and many more.
Martin was good and honest and moral and kind.
He certainly was fulfilled in his chosen profession, a profession through which he changed so many lives for the better.
He certainly knew happiness.
He loved and was loved in return.
Martin was born in New Haven on March 5, 1924, son of Isaac and Hannah. He was raised with his brother Melvin, whom we remember today with respect, who by the way was a general surgeon.
He graduated from Hillhouse in 1940 and entered Yale at 16, graduating in 1944. He earned his medical degree at New York Medical College in 1948. He did his surgical internship at St. Raphael’s and orthopedic residencies at several distinguished hospitals. He served in the Army from 51-53 and was stationed in Seoul, Korea & Tokyo, Japan. He came back to New Haven where he went into the private practice of Orthopedics from 1954-1965 and in 1965 he formed an orthopedic group known as the New Haven Orthopedic Surgeons, which eventually became the Center for Orthopaedics. Throughout his career, Martin had staff privileges at St. Raphael’s and Yale-New Haven and was a Clinical Professor at Yale Medical School. He was a member of professional boards and societies.
He had so much experience that he was calm and prepared for anything and everything.
He enjoyed teaching the residents and training them how to think. Nurses liked him because he treated them so well.
He performed surgeries until he was 75. He became an institution in this area. But institutions are usually cold towers. He was warm and approachable. It felt like everyone knew him. He touched countless lives. I would often hear the words, “There's Dr. Sumner,” and the words were always said with a mixture of awe and affection. He changed people’s lives, and in many cases, extended their lives by giving people the ability to do and go about their lives without pain.
Martin met Della during his residency training in Japan in 1952. They married and were blessed with three children; Jeffrey, Martin Jr and Nicole. They were happily married until Della's death in 2002. After she was gone, he took red roses to her grave. He not only nurtured his children, but was also a wonderful role model. The three children were very close, which is always a wonderful reflection of the way they were raised. Martin closed the office in June and off they would go to Europe As children, they traveled everywhere.
The three children grew up and went into three very different fields; Jeff, as we all know, into medicine, Tod into the arts and then a career with Time Magazine, and Nicki to become a teacher in special education and math. They made their father proud and their individuality was wonderful; each successful and fulfilled.
With Jeff, as you’ll hear from him in a minute, there was a special relationship that covered every aspect of their lives. Our hearts go out to Jeff for many reasons today, one of which is that he has now lost everyone in his first immediate family.
That two of Martin’s three children predeceased him, Tod in 1991 and Nicki in 2011, was a sorrow beyond measure. Yet Martin somehow bore it and went on. Still, underneath his strong and calm exterior, and his knowledge of the realities of life, the grief was very painful.
Jeffrey and Elizabeth gave him his grandchildren, Claire, Michael, and Connor. As a grandfather, Martin was involved in everything, and could always be found at all his grandchildren’s events, from dance competitions to graduations to games. He was very proud of them in every way.
Martin contributed generously to countless organizations. I want to emphasize that he was generous and to many different causes.
At the age of 79, Martin married Betty. I have to say that for me, this was one of the greatest stories that I’ve ever seen, that two people could find love and friendship and a whole new stage of life. They did everything together; every time I turned around they were going on some adventure around the world and coming home with great art. They enjoyed golf, concerts, and theatre. Martin joined Betty in volunteering for bloodmobiles, the mitzvah committee, and the soup kitchen. You should have seen him at the nursing home, with his gloves on, surgically cutting the cake and the gefilte fish into meticulous slices. Some of us will be at the Arden House this afternoon, and we’ll miss him. No one else could cut an apple into so many pieces; the legend is he cut an apple into 64 slices.
We mourn today with Betty, but we are also so incredibly happy for Betty, that she had this wonderful man in her life and that her life was transformed in so many ways. There are a lot of unexpected disappointments in life. Sometimes there are unexpected fantastic surprises.
We mourn today with Betty’s family, Martin’s step-children, Harris and James, and Jane and Raymond, step-grandchildren, Jenifer and John Carey and great-step-grandchild John. They honored and cherished Martin and h loved them.
What kind of person was Martin Sumner? He was very normal. He was very genuine. He was proud of who he was and what he accomplished, but he was never full of himself or haughty.
He loved the skin he was in. He lived a life that he loved. There was no baggage, no second thoughts, nothing to regret.
He had a wonderful sense of humor. He was so fast with a humorous reply. He would finish Betty's crossword puzzles.
I began by asking a number of questions, all of which we could answer with a resounding yes to his character and accomplishments and goodness. One more question: How did the person deal with the last stages of life? These last six months or so have been terrible. He went through so much. But Betty and Jeff and the family could not have been better or more supportive or more there by his side. And Martin was brave and resolute and he kept going, somehow, despite everything he was going through. It is not just a platitude to say that he is out of his suffering.
What do we always say? That we want to leave the world better than we found it. Martin Sumner did that. He did so much for others. He can rest in peace knowing that he lived a good and loving and meaningful life. He was a righteous man. We’ll miss him.