A caricature of Dr. James Springer adorned the wall of his oral surgery consultation office in Boston. The drawing, a dental chair in the background, showed a patient on the floor. Dr. Springer’s knee was planted on the patient’s chest, and he was using an oversized pair of pliers to extract a stubborn tooth.
“That’s what people looked at when they were deciding if my father would operate on them,” said his daughter Mychal of New York City. “He had a great sense of humor.”
Dr. Springer, who practiced oral surgery in Boston for nearly 40 years, died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease June 1 in his home in New York City. He was 89 and formerly lived in Brookline.
“His precision and expertise were widely recognized in the Boston area,” his daughter said. “Dentists would send him patients when they were beyond what they could do. He loved the work of his hands. That is where his brilliance shone, in the way his hands did very, very careful work.”
Born in Chelsea to Louis and Ada Springer, Dr. Springer grew up in Revere and as a child liked to go to Revere Beach.
He lived with his parents and older sister, Deborah, and his father worked as a linotype operator at the Globe until retirement.
When he was old enough to attend high school, Dr. Springer lived with his grandmother in Boston so he could attend Boston Latin School. During his senior year, school authorities got wind of what was happening and threatened to expel him unless his immediate family lived in Boston.
“The choice was to either move to Boston or go to another school,” Mychal said. “So his parents closed up their home in Revere and moved to Boston for a year so my father could get his diploma from Boston Latin School.”
Dr. Springer then attended Colby College in Waterville, Maine, where he studied for two years to complete several general education requirements for dental school.
While at Colby, Dr. Springer was singer, saxophonist, and bandleader for a group known as Jimmy Springer and the White Mule Orchestra, which specialized in swing hits of the 1930s and ’40s.
Years later, Dr. Springer’s daughter said, he often would sing to patients to calm their nerves when they were in the dental chair.
“He genuinely loved to sing and it was an expression of who he was,” she said. “His singing put people at ease. Unlike a lot of dentists who talk to their patients with their hands in their mouth, he knew the singing and his lightheartedness helped with the anxiety many people felt in the chair.”
Dr. Springer received his dental degree from the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in 1946 and became very involved with the Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity.
Despite being a child of the Great Depression, he was quite adventurous and took risks earlier in his career, said his son, Jonathan of New York City.
“My father was very much an idealist who closed up his burgeoning dental practice in 1949 to live in the desert in a newly declared country,” his son said. That year, Dr. Springer moved to Israel and volunteered as a dentist in the Israel Defense Forces.
“It’s only later in life that my father heeded my grandfather’s legacy of stability and the desire for self-reliance, when my father settled back in Boston to open a stable oral surgery practice and establish a family together with my mother,” his son said.
Soon after returning from Israel in the early 1950s, Dr. Springer met Tova Weissman-Livni of Tel Aviv at a party.
She knew of Dr. Springer by reputation. The Israel Defense Forces office where she worked often sent patients to the man known to many as “Dr. Jimmy” while he was in Israel.
In the United States, when he was a young Army captain posted at the Pentagon, Dr. Springer married Weissman-Livni in a full military wedding at Israel’s Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Presiding over the ceremony was Chaim Herzog, who in 1983 would become the sixth president of Israel.
After working at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem between 1959 and 1961, Dr. Springer moved to Brookline, where he lived until 2007, when he moved to Manhattan in New York City.
“My father was a man of principle. He was governed by ideas of what was right, and had commitments that grew out of that,” his daughter said. “He thought that one should be independent in every way, which meant that he wanted to be an independent professional in private practice as an oral surgeon.”
Dr. Springer opened a private practice on Francis Street in Boston, and he was affiliated with the former Brookline and Deaconess hospitals. He also was a clinical instructor at Harvard’s School of Dental Medicine.
“His patients included dignitaries such as Henry Kissinger and Moshe Dayan, but he was proudest of his service to patients on Medicaid, who always made up a considerable portion of his practice,” his son said.
“My father believed everybody deserved care, so he would never turn anyone away for lack of ability to pay,” Mychal added.
A service has been held for Dr. Springer, who in addition to his wife, daughter, and son, leaves another daughter, Tamar, of Ann Arbor, Mich.