Dr. Walter Gasner, 1912-2012

Walter Gilbert Gasner of Block Island, a retired lieutenant colonel and flight surgeon in the Army Air Corps during World War II, died five months shy of his 101st birthday, on December 19, 2012.

Dr. Gasner, a physician, founded the division of dermatology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s teaching hospital in New York in 1955, and as its first chief transformed the practice of the skin specialty to focus on immunology.

He was simultaneously the chief of dermatology at Grasslands Hospital Medical Center (currently the Westchester Medical Center), in Valhalla, N.Y., and maintained a private practice first in Mt. Vernon and later in White Plains, both in New York.

He remained an associate clinical professor at Einstein until his retirement in 1974, whereupon he and his wife pursued their lifelong passions, skiing and fishing, from second homes in the Catskills of New York to the Florida Keys.

Walter Gasner was born May 6, 1912, the youngest of seven children, at home at 444 Grand Street on the Lower East Side of New York City, to Charles Gasner, a diamond merchant, and Gussie, nee Litcoff, both émigrés from eastern Europe at the close of the 19th Century.

He would not find out until four days after graduating from the Medical College of South Carolina in Charleston on June 4, 1936, that his birth name was William, from a certificate he received in the mail from his father the day he took his appointment as a first lieutenant in the Army of the United States.

With a check enclosed in that envelope, he bought a new Plymouth coupe, for $718, which he used driving on active duty as a medical officer providing care to patients at Civilian Conservation Corps camps throughout the South.

He drove that car back to Manhattan the following spring, 1937, and that summer met the woman with whom he would elope on New Year’s Eve of that year, Shirley Friedman, a stunning raven-haired beauty, who went by the name of Sherry.

They were a remarkably attractive couple, he at nearly six-feet, with chestnut color hair and a light-brown mustache in the clipped style of the day (it was said when he was in his thirties that he bore more than a passing resemblance to Clark Gable), and they fell easily into the post-Depression savoir-faire of the era — epitomized by the glamorous Hollywood movies of the late 1930s and 40s — that was cut short by America’s entry into the Second World War.

After the war, they settled in a country village a few miles north of New York City, in a Colonial-design, slate-roof house they built with a white picket fence out front that belied the Jaguar sports car in the garage, winter excursions skiing in Zermatt, and summers on Long Island Sound racing their Herreshoff “S” class sail boat named Kandahar, after the oldest downhill ski race in the world.

Over the years, they would have four children, two boys and two girls, and remain the love of each other’s life for the next 74 years, until Mrs. Gasner’s death four months prior to his.

Like his wife, he died in their own bed in their last home on a private peninsula on Block Island’s Harbor Pond, surrounded by family.

He is survived by Douglas Gasner and his partner Carolyn Brown, John and Pamela Gasner, all of Block Island; Jane and Lowell Rosman of Andover, Mass.; and Mary and Paul Kane of Langford, England; nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Donations in his name may be made to the American Legion, Post 36, Block Island, RI 02807. A memorial service will be held when the shad are again in bloom on Block Island and the fish they are named for are turning from the ocean back to the rivers where they were born.

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