Morris William “Ike” Rosenthal, M.D., F.A.A.P, died on May 6, 2020, surrounded by his loving wife and 5 children as the Blue Angels flew over Houston. He was a son, brother, husband, father, pediatrician, horseman, aviator and retired flight surgeon and Colonel (USA Air National Guard), and a proud American Jew. He was also an avid sports fan and original season ticket holder of the Oilers and Texans. He was a pioneer throughout this life and an adored inspiration to us all.
Ike was born to Della Stramer and Louis Rosenthal on July 1, 1926, grew up in the Houston Heights and graduated from John Reagan High School. He won a football scholarship to Texas Tech University, the first in his entire family to attend college. After serving in the Army, he started pre-med classes at the University of Houston. In the Fall of 1947, he entered The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston where he graduated in 1951. In 1948, the weekend of the annual Rice v LSU football game, he met Julien, and they were married in 1949, the first marriage ceremony in the current Congregation Emanu El.
After graduating from medical school, Ike and Julien returned to Houston where, in 1953, he began his pediatric internship and residency at Baylor College of Medicine, opening the doors of Texas Children’s Hospital as a member of the first class of resident physicians in 1954.
Following his residency, Ike founded Spring Branch Children’s Clinic; then he and nine other physicians built Spring Branch Hospital, which was one of the first suburban hospitals. Eventually, Ike’s three younger brothers, Paul, Ben and Harry Rosenthal joined him in his pediatric practice, which expanded to an additional location in West Houston in the late 1970’s. Both clinics together became known as Ashford Spring Branch Pediatric Associates and years later, the 4 brothers’ privately-owned practice was the first one acquired by Texas Children’s Hospital in formation of Texas Children’s Pediatric Associates.
Ike was preceded in death by his parents and brother, Dr. Paul Rosenthal, and brother-in-law, Jackie Proler. He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Julien Epstein Rosenthal, sister-in-law, Bitsy Proler; brothers, Dr. Ben Rosenthal (Marilynn), and Dr. Harry Rosenthal (Carolyn); children Laurie Rosenthal Lee (Dr. Dico Hassid), Lee S. Rosenthal (Mindy), Jan Rosenthal Cohen (Leslie), Louis Rosenthal, II (Alyssa) and Marty Rosenthal Marlowe (Andrew). In addition, he is survived by grandchildren Lindsey Lee Hirsch (Jesse), Justin Lee, Eli Hassid (Nicole Hast), Roni Hassid, Rachel Rosenthal Saghian (Michael), Seth and Anna Rosenthal, Dr. Joshua Cohen (Stephanie), Suzie Cohen, Jacob Cohen (Amy), Max, Jason, Jessica Rosenthal, Emily and Hannah Marlowe; and great grandchildren Daniel, Jonah and Nicholas Hirsch, Evan and Logan Hast; Eva and Amelia Saghian; Spencer, Lilah and Annie Cohen; Duke Cohen; Jack Lee, and numerous nieces and nephews.
The family greatly appreciates the invaluable care and assistance of all Ike’s caregivers over the past few years.
A private burial was officiated by Rabbi Roy Walter.
Contributions may be sent in memory of Dr. Morris Rosenthal to the Rosenthal Family Endowment at Texas Children’s Hospital, or Congregation Emanu El Houston Endowment Fund.
Rabbi Roy A. Walter’s Remarks:
Morris ‘Ike’ Rosenthal Moshe ben Lazar
You’d think after 50 years it’s easy to write a eulogy, especially for someone you’ve known and admired your entire rabbinic career, whose family you have shared life’s ups and downs with and who has played an important role in the life of your congregation. That’s what you would think. But it’s not. It’s not easy because I can’t just be the rabbi and maintain distance. I am a mourner as well as your rabbi. I share your grief and your sense of loss.
In Ike’s case the difficulty is increased by his amazing life. How to capture so long, productive and exuberant a life in a few words is not easy. I read not only the beautiful obit you provided me, but thanks to Louis I read the memoir he wrote. Whatever the details, what came through loudest and clearest of all was Ike’s appreciation for his blessed life. His description of professional and family life was exuberant. He remembered friends from long ago. He cherished the mother and father who raised him, the wife he has shared life with for 70 years and the children they brought into the world and raised together. The brothers who shared his childhood and professional life with him. The friends – some of whom came and went, others of whom were permanent. I can only imagine what he would have said if he had talked about his grandchildren. For Ike life was an adventure, filled with challenges and opportunities, both of which he integrated into his life, and he loved sharing it.
You all know the details of Ike’s life better than I. Growing up in a small home in a part of town where Jews didn’t live. On more than one occasion, he defended himself – both on the street corner with his fists when necessary and against a football coach who disrespected his religious choice to attend shul on Rosh Hashanah. I love the way he recounted that when all was said and done, he earned the respect by standing up for himself.
One of you described Ike’s life as climbing a ladder, one rung at a time. A very accurate description. I think on reflection that his determination comes in part from his high school experience as a football player. You all told me how much he loved the game his whole life. It taught him a lot, not the least of which was the lesson that you can overcome obstacles and succeed if you are determined and use your brain. In football every play is a challenge to be met. And if you don’t succeed on that down, you try again next down with a better play. That lesson guided him through college and medical school and into his medical practice; his vision to select a neighborhood for his practice where young people were moving; his foresight to purchase land around the hospital he helped found so when they needed to expand he could benefit; his long association with Texas Children’s Hospital and the subsequent partnership that developed when the practice became part of the hospital; his taking up flying at the age of 50, a passion he turned into travel; the way he turned his love of flying into a whole new areas of medicine as a flight surgeon at Ellington where he became a full Colonel. Whether Ike knew it or not, I think all that is related somehow to his love of football from his youth.
I have always thought that pediatricians have to be special people. In many cases, because the children are too young to really communicate, you have intuit what’s happening. Even as children get older, they’re not always able to let you know what’s going on in their bodies. And parents can be difficult to deal with. It takes not only great medical skill but a kind of patience few people have. I think Dr. Morris epitomized that. And what better indication of how good he was at it than the fact that he treated two and three generations of the some families. That’s a level of trust that comes from time and experience. He was truly loved.
But as loved as he was by his patients, that doesn’t begin to compare to the love he had for his family and they have for him. Surely love of family is something he learned from his parents. You know the story of immigrant families who came at the turn of the century, worked a while, and then sent for another family member. They in turn sent money for more, until the whole family arrived. While the family was here and that wasn’t necessary once Ike was born, that same process describes the Rosenthal brothers. Ike was educated first. He then helped Paul, then the two of them saw that Ben was educated and then they all saw to it that Harry went to college and med school. There is surely a bond between the brothers that surpasses anything I could capture in words.
I loved Ike’s description of how he met Julien. He met her by chance when he went with a friend to her house. He was struck by her and thought there might be something there. After a while he got up the courage to ask her out. She had a standing Saturday night date with another fella, so he arranged to take her out on Sundays. Before long, he was the Saturday night regular and the rest you know. Their engagement was short, only a few months, and their wedding was the first in the new Emanu El sanctuary, something they remained proud of. And meaningfully it was the same sanctuary in which their children celebrated Consecration and B’nai Mitzvah and Confirmation, and their own weddings; and at age 83, with his grandson Max, he celebrated his second Bar Mitzvah.
It’s hard to even say Ike’s name without Julien. They set a high bar for their children of what it means to love and respect each other, to create a strong bond of union without giving up the individuality of yourself. Ike himself said it best not too long ago, when even as he was not mentally sharp due to Alzheimers. When asked to write a sentence, even when he couldn’t remember Julien’s name, he wrote, “I love my wife.” And his password on his computer? Julien.
So as proud as Ike was of his professional career, his pride in his family was supreme. As much as he gave to his practice, he gave even more unstintingly to his family. The memories you all shared with me on the computer call are the stuff real family love is built on. As Julien shared, he loved everything about you, from creating you to raising you. Laurie, Lee, Jan, Louis and Marty, you know as well as I do that there are no words that can adequately capture what your dad means to you. He and your mom gave you the best foundation parents could give children to build your lives on, built on love and caring, strong ethical values, and the chance to build your lives using the skills you possess.
And how specially blessed are your children, all of whom live here and have had your dad as part of their everyday lives. In this world where people are always on the move, how fortunate that your kids had your folks in their lives on a constant basis. Taking them to football games; carrying them on his shoulders when they were small; saying good-by with a kiss on both cheeks; being sewn up by him when they needed stitches; seeing so many of his traits in their children; traveling to see them wherever they were, whether it was parents’ weekend or while they were abroad studying; doing tequila shots with them at big family events; all the granddaughters dancing with him at their weddings; going to Baskin Robbins for ice cream when they spend the night.
The family memories they have are irreplaceable. Hearing his rhymes and phrases that he repeated over and over. Learning as adults to appreciate with humor his love of bawdy humor and curvaceous women.
And writing of him what Lindsey wrote in her tribute to him, capturing I think what I heard all of them saying on our Zoom call – how special he was and how much he will always remain a part of them.
That sense that he will always be a part of all of you is really what this moment is all about. It’s about laying him to rest, of course, but it’s really not about the part of Ike that has died but the part of him that will always live in you. He is reflected in you in ways you don’t even know until you step back a look at something you’ve done or something you’ve said. That’s what Ike’s funeral is really all about. Because each and every one of you is in large part who you are because of him, and not just as long as you live will that be true. It will expand beyond that by the way be becomes part of future generations through you.
You all noted the amazing irony of Ike taking his last breath as the Blue Angels flew overhead. You probably aren’t aware of it, it happened so fast, but surely one of those jets paused for a millionth of a second to take your dad’s soul for a ride on its way to wherever our souls go. It was once last plane ride, as the Blue Angels took his soul to wherever it is that souls go.
Shluf gezundt, Ike. Rest in peace. Your life was a blessing and your memory will remain as a blessing that will long endure.