On busy days, a line of loyal patients would overflow the waiting room of Dr. Harold Ravits’ St. Paul dermatology practice, winding out into the hall to seek his counsel.
The mild-mannered physician, who made house calls and often provided care at no charge, developed an intense following among community members searching for a kindhearted specialist.
“People seemed to want to put their faith in him,” said Cissy Ravits, his wife of 68 years.
It was a responsibility he took seriously. After serving as a U.S. Army medic in World War II, Ravits dedicated 50 more years of his life to treating various skin ailments — saving even more lives with his diagnoses, relatives said.
Ravits died on March 27. He was 99.
A St. Paul native, Ravits graduated from Central High School in 1935 and later got his medical training at the University of Minnesota. During the war, he worked in Europe as a surgeon in a medical triage unit.
“That was something he carried with him but didn’t talk about,” said his daughter, Emily “Mimi” Ravits.
But he preserved those memories. He kept a picture taken at the 1945 liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp inside his sock drawer as a reminder of the carnage.
Upon his return, Ravits opened the dermatology office in downtown St. Paul, where he became one of the most sought-after skin doctors in the Twin Cities. Ravits made house calls to patients with psoriasis and would never deny care to those who couldn’t afford it.
He was so beloved that patients — who knew he was Jewish — would insist on delivering homemade Christmas gifts. Without a tree to pile them under, packages of canned jam, spaghetti sauce and knitted goods would be stacked in the corner of their living room, Mimi Ravits said.
Former colleagues called him the “king of dermatology” for his impressive knowledge of skin diseases and his ability to provide a diagnosis for those who had been unable to find answers. His practice was devoted entirely to medical dermatology, rather than cosmetic.
Ravits carried his soft-spoken demeanor into the office, stressing the importance of showing respect toward clients and nurses. His son, John Ravits, would tag along while he performed rounds at the hospital, where he learned the value of a good bedside manner.
Among a long string of prominent dermatologic appointments, Ravits served as the chief of staff at St. Paul-Ramsey Hospital (now Regions) — the first dermatologist to do so.
He practiced until he was 83 years old — only stopping after a medical conference where all of the residents began taking notes on laptops, Mimi Ravits said. Even after retiring, the doctor made a point to attend monthly dermatology meetings with other local professionals because he remained fascinated by the science behind his work.
In his spare time, Ravits enjoyed the arts, especially classical music. He played tennis weekly, and took up downhill skiing after he turned 40.
When the grandchildren came along, Ravits tailored his time to enjoy the things they did. He trekked to Twin games with eldest grandson Josh Hurwit. “He was never thinking about his own schedule or his own wants and needs,” Hurwit said. “It was all about what you wanted to do.”
Ravits seemingly never got angry, and relatives cannot recall a time he ever yelled. In fact, he developed a mantra he’d use to sign off on the phone and in person.
“He would never say ‘goodbye,’ ” Mimi said. “He’d say ‘happy days.’ ”
In addition to his wife and three children, Ravits is survived by nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Services have been held.