Hamilton Pediatrician Remembered for his Compassion

Dr. Harry Hotz, with a photo of himself as a 24-year-old captain in the Canadian army medical corps

Harry Hotz used to joke that if he’d listened to his father and gone into the scrap metal business he might have retired with a Porsche in the garage of his Florida condo. Instead, the long-time Hamilton, Ont., pediatrician ended his 100 years of life with the respect and admiration of the community he served.

Hotz, whose medical career spanned more than 70 years and only ended when he was 91, died March 25.

Rabbi Jordan Cohen, of Temple Anshe Sholom, the Hamilton shul Hotz and his family supported for more than 70 years, praised him at a live streamed funeral service as a role model in both the Jewish and medical communities.

“Wherever you look online today the name of Harry Hotz is being lauded in our community,” he said. “Harry was an institution in the Hamilton community and an icon in the field of pediatrics.

“Wherever he went with that glint in his eye and that bowtie around his neck people recognized that this was someone special.”

Former patients, including many who later brought their own 

children to be cared for by the doctor famous for his colourful bowties, well-stocked toy boxes and ready smile, filled the online condolence site with memories.

One recalled how he inspired her to choose nursing as a career while another recalled him as “compassionate, devoted, and caring to all of his patients,” including herself and her children. “He had so many amazing qualities. I will always remember Dr. Hotz in his signature cap and bowtie, along with his special medical bag when he did house calls. We were very fortunate to have him in our lives.”

Rabbi Bernard Baskin, rabbi emeritus of Anshe Sholom, relied on Hotz to care for his own three children and recalled his friend as the doctor who “was always calm and quick to offer reassurance to troubled parents.”

The medical career recalled with such kindness by friends, family and former patients might never have happened, however, because of prejudice and Max Hotz’ desire for his son to join him in the family’s scrap metal business.

Born in Lithuania and brought to Canada at the age of six months in 1921, Lazar Hotz (as Harry was then known) was the fourth of six children born to Max and Shanna. Like many other immigrants, life in their new home was a struggle.

“We were poor, but then so was everyone in those days,” Hotz recalled in a 2005 interview for a local Jewish history project. “Back then, everyone helped one another. I don’t think that feeling is there today like it was then.”

For several years the family lived in their Bay Street scrap yard until Lazar was ready for high school. That’s when he gave himself the name Harry to better fit in.

Initially, young Harry went along with his father’s pressure to opt for business and technical education but his brother eventually convinced him to follow his medical dream.

Hotz was one of the lucky few Jews admitted to the University of Toronto medical school in 1939. Those were the days of the now-infamous quota on the number of Jews admitted each year. In Hotz’ first-year class of 240 students, that meant only 22 Jews.

After his medical degree, but before internship and residency, there were two years of service in the Canadian army medical corps where, at age 24, he was promoted to captain. Hotz’ war service was confined to Halifax where he treated soldiers returning from Europe. His chance to go overseas was to come in August, 1945. 

The contingent was in Vancouver ready to ship out to Asia when news of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war.

When the war ended, Hotz opted for the specialty of pediatrics but again faced the challenge of finding an internship and residency that would accept a Jew.

“There was rampant anti-Semitism then,” recalled his daughter Elaine. “As a result of that quota, 13 of the 19 students who went on to post-graduate training had to go to the United States.”

After serving his internship at Hamilton General Hospital, Hotz was one those forced to pursue education across the border. He served a residency in pediatrics in Chicago and was senior resident at the New Children’s Hospital in Honolulu. There he also volunteered to serve on the infamous leper colony of Molokai.

By 1949, training complete, the new specialist arrived back in Hamilton where he set up a practice that would eventually grow to a core of 3,000 patients and a life of hard work seeing as many as 40 patients a day in his office plus 15 house calls and 10-15 hospital visits.

Betty Beaudoin, “Nurse Betty” for patients through the years, recalled how those house calls would be made through snowstorms, or on his way home to his growing family.

“He was a role model to all, a hero and friend to his patients,” she wrote. “He made house calls in snow storms or on his way home to his family, would stay late at the office to see a child who awoke from a nap with a high fever.”

Along the way, there many firsts. Hotz’ daughter Susan recalled how he was among the first Hamilton physicians to administer the new drug penicillin.  “When they brought in a new machine called an X-ray he volunteered to try it out on himself again and again,” she said. Daughter Elaine said he was among the first in Hamilton to use the new polio vaccine and blood exchange transfusion for the treatment of thalissemia.

Not long after starting his practice, Hotz met a surgical nurse from Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital named Ruth on a blind date. They were married within six months of meeting and were together 71 years. Their family eventually grew to six children — Elaine, Robert, Susan, Mark, Jeffrey and Larry, in addition to 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

After 47 years, Hotz sold his Hamilton practice, but did not retire. For another 15 years he worked three days a week at a local clinic, helping refugee children.

“He would work there diagnosing and treating diseases that we rarely see in Canada today,” Elaine recalled.

Honours from the community were many. Among them, Hotz was elected president of Temple Anshe Sholom, he was appointed to the medical faculty of McMaster University and saw the paediatric wing of St. Joseph’s Hospital named for him.