Dr. Murray Feingold, 84; TV reporter, pioneer in children’s care
Since the 1970s, Dr. Murray Feingold was the physician of choice for hundreds of thousands across the state. He wrote health columns in the Globe and other newspapers, and, more prominently, was featured on radio and TV broadcasts, from hosting Channel 4’s “Feeling Fine” in the 1970s through his modern-day “Medical Minute” segments on WBZ-AM.
Making media house calls — “You get right into their home,” he told the Globe in 1981, “they look upon you as their friend” — Dr. Feingold was a pioneer in what is now a staple of broadcast news: the on-air physician who has advice for every malady.
Though he was a general practitioner behind a microphone, Dr. Feingold simultaneously was a pioneer in pediatrics and genetics. He authored scores of articles in medical journals, and created a center to help families coordinate appointments with the dizzying array of specialists who are needed for children born with birth defects, intellectual disorders, and genetic diseases.
As physician-in-chief for the Feingold Center for Children in Waltham , he personally cared for thousands of patients. Following the cases of children whose names he never forgot as they grew into adulthood, he offered families the kindness and reassurance that often were absent until they found their way to his office. “Every one of us has some kind of abnormality, large or small,” he told a family in 1975.
Dr. Feingold, who supported his comprehensive approach to treating genetic disorders by creating the Genesis Foundation for Children, died Friday in Boston Medical Center of what his family said was a rare lung disease. He was 84, lived on Mashnee Island in Bourne, and formerly was a Boxford resident for many years.
While the number of lives Dr. Feingold touched since arriving in Boston 55 years ago is difficult to quantify, the families of patients measured his impact on an emotional scale.
Rich Sawyer of Woburn said he and his wife, Kathleen, were foundering and “in panic mode” as they sought help for their 3-year-old son about 15 years ago. A call to Dr. Feingold’s office brought an offer of an appointment the next morning.
“He let us talk and was just incredibly caring and kind,” Sawyer recalled. “He left no stone unturned, either. He would have sat with us all day. Because of him, not only has our son Michael received the best medical care possible in Boston, there was never a question that was unanswered. We went from being nervous wrecks to, ‘This is going to be OK.’ ”
Dr. Feingold’s vision in the early 1980s, when he was directing the genetic counseling center and the birth defect evaluation service at Tufts New England Medical Center, was that families would be best served by a center that coordinated appointments with top specialists. That way, a child could see multiple doctors in a single day, rather than making repeated trips into Boston. Building from that foundation, he created satellite clinics that at one point stretched west to Springfield and north to Maine to cut down on travel time for families.
This required substantial investment and outgrew the medical center’s resources. To create what would become the Feingold Center, he began raising money for what initially was the Genesis Fund. Retired Boston Celtics star John Havlicek was one of the first to help. From 1981 until the final fund-raiser this year, Havlicek and his wife, Beth, hosted the John Havlicek Celebrity Fishing Tournament on Martha’s Vineyard, raising millions of dollars. They also served on the Genesis Foundation’s board.
“We thought it would have a shelf life of five or six years, but people enjoyed it so much,” Havlicek said of the tournament. “Murray was a giant among men, and will always be looked at that way by the people who knew him. It’s amazing to see the work he’s done with the families and the children.”
Dr. Feingold was born and grew up in Hazleton, Pa., where his parents ran a dress shop. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., and received a medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.
After interning in Allentown, Pa., he began a residency at New England Deaconess Hospital in 1960. Dr. Feingold also served a pediatrics residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, and was chief resident in pediatrics at Boston City Hospital.
In 1964, he married Lorinda Bluemer of Foxborough.
As a professor for many years at Tufts University School of Medicine and Boston University School of Medicine, he was “unparalleled in the realm of being a mentor and a teacher,” said Dr. Catherine Bearce Nowak, who is on the Genesis Foundation’s board of directors and is clinical director of the Feingold Center for Children.
“He was an incredible advocate for children with these very rare and specialized needs, and their families as well,” she said. “Part of my training with him was just in the use of language, what a difference words can make in the life of a child and a family struggling with a condition.”
Dr. Feingold recognized that “birth defects” should be removed from the center’s sign and its official name, because the phrase was what children first saw when they arrived for treatment. “He really championed the idea of let’s get this language to be respectful,” Nowak said.
Also a master of putting patients at ease, Dr. Feingold did magic tricks for children and kept his office stocked with puppets. He used those icebreakers with adults, too.
“I can’t remember a time when he came into my office when he didn’t lead off with a joke or the latest magic trick he was working on,” said Peter Casey, director of news and programming for WBZ.
Dr. Feingold, who was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2004, was as groundbreaking in the news media as he was in medicine, Casey said.
“He wasn’t given any rules. He wasn’t given a path to follow,” Casey said. “He was given time on TV and radio and space in a newspaper column, but he wasn’t given a direction. He did it from the heart. The things that he did as adjunct to his profession in medicine, other people now do as a full-time career. I don’t think people could do that today without the Murray Feingolds who were there first.”
Dr. Timothy Johnson, a senior medical contributor for ABC News, was a broadcast competitor and longtime friend of Dr. Feingold’s. For many years, they lived in neighboring communities and socialized.
“It’s remarkable that one person could have been such a pioneer in two very different fields, media and genetics,” Johnson said. “And he truly was a pioneer in both areas simultaneously.”
A service will be announced for Dr. Feingold, who in addition to his wife leaves three children, Rachael Stein of Santa Barbara, Calif., Justin of Plymouth, and Matthew of Portsmouth, N.H.; two brothers, Edgar of Baltimore and Eugene of Munster, Ind.; a sister, Ruth Kern of Short Hills, N.J.; and six grandchildren.
“As his son and as a member of the board of the Genesis Foundation, I am proud that my father’s legacy of helping children with genetic disorders and their families will continue for years to come,” Justin said in a statement. “We will miss him dearly.”
So, too, will the families, said Rich Sawyer, who has attended annual “Yaz Day” fund-raisers hosted by former Red Sox star Carl Yastrzemski for the Genesis Foundation at Fenway Park with his wife and their son.
“He knew every single patient by name,” Sawyer said. “His practice is fantastic and he’s leaving an incredible legacy, but there will never be another Dr. Feingold. I’ll never forget his kindness.”