THE BLOG
05/01/2014 06:00 pm ET Updated Jul 01, 2014

Dare to Be 100: Cousin Don Is 100

Donald Bortz, M.D., was born on April 19, 1914, the son of Walter M. Bortz I, M.D., my uncle and dad's dear brother. The Bortz brothers were born and raised in Greensburg, PA., a small railroad town 30 miles east of Pittsburgh. Don and Uncle Walter stayed put in Greensburg, while Dad went East -- first to Harvard, then to Philadelphia, which was to become my birthplace and early home in 1930.

Don's life and mine intersected along the way as he attended Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia and then interned at the old German Lankenau Hospital where Dad was chief of the medical service.

During these years, Don was a frequent meal and holiday guest. Also he met, courted and married a Lankenau nurse, Ginny Patton. Since he was 16 years older than me, I tracked his career closely. My career was plotted to follow his, part of the way.

Through the decades, Don was more the traditionalist, following the model of the prototype family doc, Arrowsmith, like Uncle Walter. Don returned to practice medicine near home. On the other hand, I elected to take three extra years in biochemistry labs after my required residency in internal medicine. This thereby steered me into more of an academic career, as I cherished research and teaching in addition to basic patient care.

Don and Ginny had three sons, none of whom became physicians. I was luckier, as our second son, Walter M. Bortz IV, followed Dad and me into medicine. Walter M. Bortz III, Don's middle son, chose a career path that led to his assuming the presidency of Hamden Sydney College in Virginia. We all aggregated to celebrate his investiture.

My dad's death in 1970 prompted my family's move to California, thereby leaving Don in charge of the health of the gentle people of Pennsylvania, which he did with immense caring and skill for the next four-plus decades. I rarely saw Don in these past years, but we continued to stay in touch, sharing family Christmas greetings and birth and wedding news flashes.

Don remained 16 years older than me, so implicitly he was a beacon of my future life. Ginny died 10 years ago of diabetes complications, leaving Don alone in his lovely Norman Rockwell rural home outside Greensburg. His steady medical practice started to erode several years ago, as his vision deteriorated and other common deficits constricted his patient care. His three sons rallied to his side and remain so today.

The calendar kept turning over, 90, 95, 96. 100 became not just a possibility but a likelihood. Until Don, my mother, Peg Bortz, held the family age record. Ma lived till 95, but still failed to reach the 100 tape.

April 19, 2014, loomed, a date of huge importance. One member of the Bortz clan was to live a full 10 decades, an occasion not to be missed. Don was going to need extra puffing power to blow out all those candles. I used his birthday as an excuse to revisit my parents' old homestead at 135 W Pittsburgh Street, where our grandfather maintained the Bortz grocery store. Not much remains.

The morning dawned bright and clear. Don was up for the occasion. Soon the festivities started and lasted all day, as hundreds of well wishers gathered to pay tribute to Don, who had served as a caring steward of their lives. "Do you remember when?" was heard over and over again. I figured that this must be how it is when the pope receives his flock to offer thanks for blessings received. The last guest left at 6 p.m. and we all remarked how sturdy Don had remained for the reception -- not a single nod-off.

So now we all know what being 100 years old can look like -- pretty darn good. I will shortly begin drawing up the guest list for my 100th bash in 2030. Everyone is invited.