Martin Segal, a groundbreaking medical pathologist and master clarinetist who performed with numerous classical ensembles over a remarkable career spanning seven decades, died of natural causes on Aug. 25 in St. Louis Park. He was 98.
The son of Romanian Jewish immigrants, Segal paid his way through medical school by playing the clarinet in local hotels and clubs in Minneapolis, and would go on to found and lead the first nationally accredited pathology lab in the Twin Cities at what is now Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park.
Segal and his wife, Gloria, a prominent state legislator who died in 1993, were also outspoken advocates for mental health causes. Gloria was the chief author of two landmark state bills that expanded funding for mental health and won numerous awards for such work. The couple donated a building in Hopkins that became residential housing for people with mental illness; they also donated money for an endowed chair in psychiatry at the University of Minnesota Medical School. They spoke openly about one of their sons, Tom, who struggled with severe mental illness and took his own life weeks before his father died.
“My father was exceedingly accomplished, exceedingly humble and really not interested in relishing attention on himself,” said his youngest son, Rob Segal, who runs a business that builds interactive museum exhibits. “He was very happy to be quietly working away on the periphery — doing incredible things.”
Segal was born in 1920 in south Minneapolis. He was the fourth of five children whose father, Harry, emigrated from a small town in Romania and operated a tailor shop just below the family’s small apartment on Bloomington Avenue South. His father made all of the family’s clothes and Segal was required to wear suits with knickers to school while the other boys wore dungarees, according to his daughter, Susan Segal, the Minneapolis city attorney.
He got his first clarinet in grade school and lied about his age to get into his first band, the Working Boys Band, which was designed to keep city boys out of trouble and was known for its tidy uniforms and patriotic songs. He worked his way through school by playing his clarinet as a paid musician, including gigs at resorts and clubs. Because of the pervasive anti-Semitism in Minneapolis at that time, Segal was often required to enter clubs, where he performed, through the back door, family members said.
Segal graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1944, and practiced five years of general medicine before becoming a pathologist. He quickly distinguished himself for his exhaustive and scholarly approach to examining patients, and his willingness to push the boundaries of his field. In 1977, he saved a patient’s life by identifying the first human case in the United States of an animal parasite in larval stage — a discovery that was later published in a prominent medical journal.
Among his colleagues, Segal was viewed as a perfectionist and a “doctor’s doctor,” who regularly worked 12-hour days and was not afraid to consult with multiple specialists before rendering a diagnosis. “For Dr. Marty, pathology was not just a job or an interest. It was a passion,” said Dr. Ross Simpson, a pathologist at Methodist Hospital. “Each patient was a puzzle that needed to be solved.”
Segal continued to play the clarinet well into his 90s, and his love for music was so strong that he attended music camps in northern Minnesota each summer and took college courses on music theory after he retired. He even played in the Normandale Community College concert band with students about 50 years his junior.
A memorial service is set for 3 p.m. Sunday at Temple Israel, 2323 S. Fremont Av., Minneapolis.