Theodore “Ted” Papermaster, a longtime Twin Cities pediatrician known for a prodigious memory and swift diagnostic skills, died Nov. 10 after a brief illness. He was 100.
A World War II veteran, Papermaster served four years as a U.S. Army flight surgeon and was awarded 11 battle stars, the Presidential Unit Citation with three Oak Leaf Clusters and a Soldier’s Medal. Upon return to the United States at war’s end, he faced discrimination in 1940s Minneapolis when, as a Jewish doctor, he couldn’t land an interview at area hospitals. He filled in for a doctor who had taken ill at an Uptown clinic before eventually taking a job at the now-closed St. Barnabas Hospital. It was only later, after frustrated Jewish doctors had built their own hospital, Mount Sinai, that attitudes began to change, and Papermaster finished his career at Park Nicollet.
He was among the doctors who fought the nation’s worst polio outbreak in 1952, treating patients at Minneapolis’ Sister Kenny Institute before a vaccine had been developed. That year, polio killed 3,145 people in the U.S.
Raised in St. Cloud, Papermaster grew up the son of a tailor who ran a dry cleaning business. He was encouraged to play his father’s instrument, the clarinet, in the St. Cloud Municipal Boys’ Band. The group numbered 240 musicians at one point, and they traveled and performed throughout the region.
After graduation from the University of Minnesota’s medical school, Papermaster enlisted in the Army in 1942. He treated pilots and soldiers at air bases in North Africa and Italy as war raged across the region.
Papermaster returned to the U.S. after the war and served briefly as the head of the pediatrics department at Louisiana State University before moving back to Minnesota, the home that he regarded as the best place on Earth to live.
Grandson David Bender, also a pediatrician, said his own regret was that he never got to work side-by-side with his grandfather, who was known for unraveling complicated cases. “If no one knew what was going on, they would call him in and in five minutes have the diagnosis,” Bender said. While still in medical school, Bender once called his grandfather to describe a child’s mysterious illness, and Papermaster accurately diagnosed the child as having lead poisoning.
“He loved medicine because it was so academically intriguing and he understood the biology,” said his daughter, Gail Bender, a Twin Cities oncologist. He would examine a patient’s illness in a detective-like fashion, carefully considering the evidence in an era before computerized tomography (CT) scans and many other now-common diagnostic tools. “My dad used to say, ‘When in doubt, examine the patient,’ ” Gail Bender said.
He was also known for his strong memory. When Papermaster was 98, historian Joy Riggs met him while researching the St. Cloud Municipal Band and was astonished at Papermaster’s boyhood memories. Seeing an old program from a piano recital he had been in, he started to hum the tune he had played, she said.
“He had a phenomenal memory,” said his wife, Dorothy, 94. “He remembered everything.” She said he would quote an old John Wayne movie word-for-word. He was known to stand up at a medical conference and recall the page number of an academic article that addressed the topic at hand. After retirement, Papermaster enrolled in classes at the U to study Hebrew and Judaic studies. He kept up a disciplined regimen of study the rest of his life.
He is survived by his wife, Dorothy; daughters, Gail and Linda; son, Barry; nine grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Services have been held.