For decades and decades, Dr. Shapiro — a WWII veteran who led the surgical team of the 16th Evacuation Hospital in Northern Africa — was known for his deep involvement in the Jewish community, his generosity and his astoundingly vigorous longevity.
According to the University of Rochester, Dr. Shapiro was the oldest active faculty member at the UR Medical Center. As recently as last month he was still participating in the education of residents and medical students, attending lectures and presenting grand rounds.
We avid readers of the Democrat and Chronicle Letters to the Editor remember his prolific output, offering wide ranging opinions to at least January 2015.
Less well known was that when Dr. Shapiro died, he was the oldest known living Section V wrestler, if not in New York, if not the nation. I will hazard to guess he was East’s oldest living athlete, if not oldest alum.
In Displaying East’s glorious past, we wrote about East’s wonderful trophy collection of historical trophies dating back to 1908. And in that glorious past, Dr. Shapiro represented the last link to the 1920s and very possibly the 1930s. (See below for more on East’s rich athletic tradition.)
Perhaps most remarkable about Dr. Morris’ wrestling career was its last act. In what may have been his last public appearance — vigorous as usual — Dr. Shapiro was fêted at the 2016 Section V Wrestling Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
In preparation for the induction ceremony, in October 2015, Dr. Shapiro shared his wrestling scrapbook with former Madison coach and official, Frank Marotta and Tim Herman, armdrag.com creator.
At the ceremony was my friend Lemuel A. Rogers III, RCSD Social Studies Teacher,Varsity Football Coach Franklin High School and Varsity Wrestling Coach East High School (and who has still promised to find me those old baseball cards from the 1970s in his foot locker). Lemuel describes the evening spanning over almost 90 years of East wrestling history:
As the current wrestling coach at East High, I am always curious about the history of our sport and how it came to be. When I heard that Dr. Morris Shapiro of East High was being inducted into the Section V Wrestling Hall of Fame, I had to attend. Dr. Shapiro is the oldest known surviving wrestler in Section V and probably all of New York State, and perhaps the nation.
As we stood in the reception area with some commotion an elderly gentleman was rolled in amongst the guest, his eyes were beaming and he was vigorously shaking hands. His energy and enthusiasm quickly spread throughout the room. I was excited because he was excited. Throughout the crowd of all of these big tough former and current wrestlers Dr. Shapiro ruled the room. He was escorted to his table where many of us took turns sitting and talking with Dr. Shapiro about many things from wrestling to girls. His hand shake was firm and confident, and his smile was contagious, I said I must have a photo with this man as the coach of his alma mater. He was fascinating and engaging. 102 years old and as sharp as ever.
I left that evening feeling empowered having met such a wonderful person. I would have never guessed his passing would come so soon after, because on that night Dr. Shapiro was the life of the party. We are grateful for his service.
What a fitting tribute to a life well lived for over a century.I never met Dr. Shapiro, but had a funny close encounter. Last summer while at the Jewish Community Center, I noticed an old photo in its trophy case. The photo was from the 1928-29 Jewish basketball team that played in the Rochester YMCA league. The caption said the coach, top right, was Morris Shapiro.
Having watched the documentary The First Basket about Jewish basketball dating back to the 1920s, it dawned on me that Dr. Shapiro might be the last surviving link to that era of Jewish basketball. With the help of the JCC’s Joy Getnick, I contacted Julie who worked at The Summit in Brighton where Dr. Shapiro lived.
Knowing that Dr. Shapiro liked talking about the past, Julie arranged an interview as I prepared my questions. Then Dr. Shapiro looked more closely at the photograph. It was a different Morris Shapiro!
Our Morris never played organized basketball, perhaps too busy on the wrestling mat. I was disappointed but not really surprised. Dr Shapiro would have been 16 at the time and Coach Shapiro looks older than that.
Several month later, I suggested to Patti Munther, co-founder of Roc4Israel (Dr. Shapiro was passionate about Israel) that she consider interviewing Dr. Shapiro. Always interested in local Jewish history, Patti (a Talker subscriber!) also arranged an interview.
But as with my visit to the Summit, Patti’s also never took place. As she explains:
You asked me to write the piece about Dr. Shapiro about two months ago and gave me another nudge about it about three weeks ago. I called him at the Summit and he called me back immediately. He knew my family and recognized my last name. We set up a time to meet last Tuesday. His nurse called me the same day to say he hadn’t been feeling well for the past two days and he wouldn’t be able to meet me. I had planned to call her the next day to re-schedule.
Dr. Shapiro was looking forward to talking about the Jewish community with me. I joked with him that you had let me know he was a bit right of center [judging from his Letters to the Editor] and so was I.
So Patti and I never did meet Dr. Shapiro. But from what we’ve read and heard about the man who was East’s oldest athlete, I think we both met him in spirit.
MORE ON EAST’S RICH ATHLETIC TRADITION