A birthday gift for Dr. Franklin benefits the hospital

Dr. Robert Franklin with daughter Martha Braunstein and Dr. Michael Goldfein. Photo by Ben Scott
"Dr. Bob," at right, admires his birthday cake, decorated with colorful hydrangea blossoms, with daughter Martha Braunstein and Dr. Michael Goldfein. Photo by Ben Scott

By Janet Hefler - July 20, 2006

Like most birthday parties, Dr. Robert Franklin's 80th birthday celebration at Farm Neck Café last week had all of the usual elements - good food, well-wishers, and a delectable cake. However, recognizing how hard it is to come up with a gift for someone after eight decades of birthdays, his family, friends, and co-workers at Vineyard Pediatrics decided to forego the standard wrapped presents.

Instead, they pooled their donations to purchase a $2,700 bilirubin phototherapy light for Martha's Vineyard Hospital's nursery in Dr. Franklin's name, honoring his career as a pediatrician and his support for the betterment of the hospital.

Obviously surprised by the announcement of his gift, Dr. Franklin thanked everyone for its thoughtfulness and appropriateness. "Giving back to the community is a very important aspect of my life. I feel very good that this gathering of friends and family has also resulted in something that will benefit the hospital," he said, with emotion in his voice.

Known as "Dr. Bob" to Island children and teens, he has worked as a part-time pediatrician at Vineyard Pediatrics at Martha's Vineyard Hospital since 2000. When his daughter Martha Braunstein was planning his birthday party, she turned to family friend Jan Van Riper for gift ideas.

After they agreed something for the hospital would be ideal, Ms. Van Riper, a long-time hospital volunteer, asked Vineyard Pediatrics Director Dr. Michael Goldfein for some suggestions. He immediately thought of the much-needed bilirubin light, used to treat newborn infants with jaundice, as something appropriate to donate in Dr. Franklin's name. A plaque noting the donation also will be displayed.

Last week's birthday celebration, hosted by Ms. Braunstein, her husband Fred and son Eric of Albany, took place on a perfect summer's day on the Café's outdoor covered patio overlooking Farm Neck Golf Club, especially fitting for Dr. Franklin, one of Farm Neck's charter members.

He and his wife Grace enjoyed visiting with the almost 70 guests who attended, including his brother Bill and sister-in-law Bev, their son Peter and daughter-in-law Kathleen Franklin, and brother-in-law John Carlson with his step-daughter Marilyn Ravina. The Franklins' son Jeff of Ventura, Calif., and granddaughter Laura Braunstein of New Orleans were unable to attend.

Several of Dr. Franklin's regular golf buddies joined his celebration, as did members of his Wednesday night "Intuitive Cosmological And Poker Society (ICAPS)." Long-time Vineyard friends and neighbors, as well as some of his fellow Tisbury Finance and Advisory Committee members, also came to wish him well. Several Vineyard Pediatrics staff members attended, as did Dr. Lester Hartman, Dr. Franklin's first partner at Westwood Pediatrics.

Recalling a few of his life's highlights a few days before the party, Dr. Franklin said he was born at home in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 6, 1926. His family moved to California in 1937 during the Great Depression.

During World War II, Dr. Franklin enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 17 and a half and served aboard the U.S.S. Helena as a radar technician. To his relief, he said he found out he was not prone to seasickness as were many of his fellow sailors.

After the war, he completed a bachelor of science degree in chemistry at the University of California at Los Angeles, and then headed to Boston. While attending the Boston University School of Medicine from 1949 to 1953, he said he "met the most beautiful woman in the world, Grace Carlson, and convinced her to marry me," which she did on June 7, 1952.

His medical background includes a pediatrics internship and residency at Bobs Roberts Children's Hospital in Chicago from 1953 to 1955, and a residency in pediatrics followed by a fellowship at Boston City Hospital from 1955 to 1957.

Dr. Franklin started his own practice, Westwood Pediatrics, in 1957. He served as Chief of Pediatrics at Norwood Hospital in the 1970s and 1980s and as Chief of Staff for a year and a half.

One of Dr. Franklin's most unusual jobs was working as a consultant to the Franklin Park Zoo from 1967 to 1970, helping to care for baby animals, and primates in particular. It was not unusual for him and his wife to act as "foster parents," cuddling and nurturing a baby gorilla, for example, in their home.

The Franklins' Island ties date back to their first summer stay in 1959. After several years of summer rentals, they built a house in Vineyard Haven in 1968. They spent weekends and every August on the Island for many years after, and enjoyed racing Vineyard 15's at the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club with Captain Tony Van Riper at the helm.

Dr. and Mrs. Franklin became year-round Vineyard residents in 1999 when he retired from his Westwood practice.

In reflecting on his career in medicine, Dr. Franklin said two changes stand out the most. He recalled his first case as an intern, treating a boy with acute leukemia who only lived three months. With the medical advances made since then, he pointed out, "Now, that same boy would have a good chance of living a full life." He also mentioned the eradication of infectious diseases such as polio and measles as another major medical breakthrough he witnessed in his lifetime.