Louis J. Rosner was my friend, my mentor, my teacher, and occasionally my doctor. And for 20 years, I was privileged to be his co-author.
I always viewed him as the Albert Schweitzer of Southern California, a great medical missionary pioneering a new land populated with Jaguars and Ferraris instead of elephants and giraffes.
Like Schweitzer, he believed the purpose of human life is to show compassion and the will to help others, and I quote, “each one of us can do a little to bring some portion of misery to an end.”
Louis Rosner did a lot.
Although he rarely spoke about his own challenges, a diagnosis of polio at age 21 forced Louis Rosner to trade his dream of a baseball career for a time out in an iron lung. He would never again walk without the aid of leg braces. While those braces could easily identify him, they would never define him.
He simply had too much inner light, crackling curiosity, a devilish wit and that forceful muscle flex to help others.
Destiny had another plan for Louis Rosner and after recovering from polio he decided to become a neurologist. Surprisingly, as a medical resident at Baylor College in Houston he decided not to focus on the disease he had battled. Instead, after treating a young ice skater with dreams shattered by MS, he decided he could help unlock the mysteries to lead to a cure.
His journey took him first to the New York Neurological Institute where soon-to-be-bestselling author Oliver Sacks was one of his students… and then to UCLA where Professor Louis Rosner took over the MS clinic.
In all, Louis Rosner dedicated over 50 years to MS, mapping it, researching it and treating patients in a way no one else could. But more on that in a moment, because L.A. is where fate intervened again and he met the love of his life, his soulmate, Larraine. Together they had a whirlwind romance that never ended, something anyone could see after spending five seconds or less with them.
Larraine had the front row seat in the extraordinary life of this renaissance man who wrote plays and published crossword puzzles and, despite everything, once climbed over the wall of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s house when the actress didn’t hear the doorbell.
(As Larraine knows, this was, however memorable, just a house call.)
Louis Rosner had a great sense of humor. So I think he’d appreciate the trouble I had with this part of his eulogy. I wanted to reflect on Hillside Memorial Park which opened in 1946 to serve the Jewish residents of Los Angeles. I started down the list…. Al Jolson, Milton Berle, baseball hall of famer Hank Greenberg… but I got a little caught up, stumbling over the names of famous people I didn’t know or had forgot had died… “no, when did that happen,” I thought and had to go look on line. Then, worse! all the people listed at Hillside I was shocked to learn were Jewish! Nell Carter from “Gimme a Break” and “Dreamgirls:” Jewish! Come on, who knew that!
Anyway, Louis belongs among the stars, even though he dedicated his life to thousands of patients who were not famous, just important to him.
The first time I entered his office, I realized you don’t wind up in the office of a neurologist without the possibility that you may be facing a serious, life-altering disease. Looking around the waiting room, you wonder who will win the lottery and be diagnosed with a menacing pinched nerve. And who will draw the short straw: brain tumor? cancer? Parkinson’s? Alzheimer’s? MS?
If you were going to be diagnosed with something you didn’t want to hear, you were lucky to hear it from Louis Rosner who believed “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.” (translation of this Albert Schweitzer quote: Louis Rosner has lived happily ever after, why shouldn’t you?)
That’s actually why he wanted to write books. His idea was to write everything he had to say if he could move in and get his patients through the first few weeks after a diagnosis.
Over our five-month collaboration, he’d send me to the UCLA biomedical library again and again until he proudly declared, “You now know as much as my first year residents.”
In time, I gathered anyone can eventually learn as much as doctors. But there were few who would ever understand as much as Louis Rosner.
The New England Journal of Medicine agreed when they reviewed his book and hailed it “the best patient-oriented book on MS” written.
(this is an excerpt from the preface he wrote in the third and final edition)
“When I moved to L.A. to take over the MS clinic at UCLA, the cause was a mystery and we could only dream of the day when new technology would offer a way to see the lesions in the brain and track the disease. Most frustrating of all, back then, there was no effective treatment for the disease. Today, with MRI technology, the diagnosis can be made within days of onset. The cause is largely solved. And there is an effective treatment to change the course of the disease. All of this, in my lifetime.
So while I honor the courage of those who battled MS in earlier times, I am grateful we have come so far so fast.”
That was grace of Louis J. Rosner.
But his healing days didn’t end there. It was Larraine, of course, who suggested a somewhat gutsy, unconventional post-retirement career for such an established academic. Louis Rosner would now enter the 21st century world of Jaguars, Ferraris and bongs and as president of a Southern California medical marijuana clinic, he found a place where he could again help people… easing their pain, stress, insomnia and anxiety.
“He had clarity to the end,” Larraine told me and together they co-managed his intensive care treatment. Even as he grew weaker in his last weeks, she said he continued to worry about others.
That was Louis J. Rosner: a man who could not walk but could teach, a man who could not walk but could heal. And when he could no longer speak, he was a man who could still fill the room with the love, compassion and wisdom of a giant.
For all these reasons and so many more, today we celebrate the courage, humanity and optimism of Louis Rosner. To Larraine, friends and family (including his much-adored Kira), we surround you in a cocoon of his love and ours.