Milton Mazer - a personal memoir
To have known Milton Mazer and his family for more than 60 years has been one of the greatest privileges that life has provided my family and me.
My first encounter with Milton was in 1943 in High Wycombe, England, when he arrived for duty in my outfit, the 41st Altitude Training Unit, as an aviation physiologist. I was its commanding officer, simply because I had arrived in England earlier than others with similar training and qualifications. The outfit was attached to the 8th Air Force Central Medical Establishment, located with the headquarters of the 8th Air Force, in Wycombe Abbey, previously a famous girls' school. Milton had to report to the executive officer of that organization. He came to see me immediately after that interview, obviously shaken and in a state of bewilderment. "What was that all about?" he asked me. The executive officer had launched into a tirade about whose side the U.S. was on and related prejudicial matters. We discussed the exec's ancestry and background briefly, and there began our friendship.
I managed to get Milton away from headquarters on a tour of U.S. Air Force bases, mostly in East Anglia, riding with a capable sergeant in a prime mover that had a decompression chamber in tow - the purpose being to indoctrinate or re-indoctrinate U.S. aircrews in the need to use oxygen when at altitude. Milton did this magnificently for a number of months, returning from time to time to High Wycombe. During one of these visits, I introduced Milton to Jo, my bride to be. The bases for lifelong friendships were established. Milton's other talents, particularly writing, were quickly recognized, and he was returned to the US for more important duties.
Back at home
After the war, I went to the Rockefeller Institute and Jo, our daughter Suzanne, and I lived for a while in a sublet apartment in Brooklyn. We re-established contact with Milton, and he came frequently to our flat - on one memorable occasion giving us his interpretation of Maurice Chevalier, to Suzanne's and our great delight. Milton was at the VA Hospital in Manhattan, and when we moved to Knickerbocker Village in the lower East Side, we were able to see him more frequently, usually in the Village, now accompanied by Virginia, who broadened our horizons in literature.
Virginia established herself as a writer and Milton as a psychoanalyst in New York. We left the New York scene for Baltimore and Hopkins and raising our growing family. There were periodic reunions - in New York, in Larchmont, and later in Montclair, New Jersey. But it was a phone call from Virginia, about 1958, suggesting that we try a new venue for a brief vacation of two weeks in Martha's Vineyard that changed the pattern of our lives. We rented Phyllis Smith's house for two weeks, during which it was foggy and rained every day. Jo fell in love with the Vineyard because it reminded her so much of England. We have since then returned every summer, many springs, and some New Year's - always seeing the Mazer family.
Milton had been encouraged, even urged, by Bob Nevin and Russ Hoxsie, to move from an analytical approach to the problems of the few in New York to the community problems of the individuals on the more isolated Vineyard. He did that with the results that are well known and for which he received much deserved recognition. I served on one of his advisory committees for a period.
Milton enjoyed life. One of his enthusiasms was sailing on Menemsha Pond and, particularly, participating in the races, under the eagle eye of Arthur Railton. On most occasions, I served as his crew, a role reversal of our relationship in England. We remained friends, but I was amazed by the discovery of another aspect of Milton's character when it came to competitiveness. It was intense, particularly when other psychiatrists represented the competition. One of the boats was called the Lithium and another Sisyphus. Milton studied the rules, the tactics, and the tricks of racing. And we won some of the races.
Our culinary collaborations were few but memorable. Milton did try on occasion my offerings of chicken-of-the-woods, a delicacy to which Stanley Murphy had introduced me. Can there be any greater indicator of friendship than eating a wild mushroom offered by a friend? But the most notorious was our effort to produce for our families a marvelous (we thought) stuffed bluefish. This joint effort was a delayed disaster, and our families, becoming ravenous after a four-hour delay, turned for survival to hamburgers and hot dogs while Milton and I eventually enjoyed the succulent bluefish. At least we said so.
Another venture, earlier on, was a sailing trip to the Elizabeth Islands, specifically Nashawena, with an experienced fresh water sailor from Canada. The crew was Mark Mazer and I. Unfortunately, although we had charts, we hit some rocks, the boat was damaged, we had to hike across the island, find someone to take us to Cuttyhunk, call our families, find someone willing to take us to Menemsha and, somewhat crestfallen, arrive there to be taken home by our waiting families. And, in all this, Milton never lost his equanimity.
Milton was never put off by new challenges. On one trip to Florida with Milton and Virginia, I managed to tear a leg muscle and could not drive our car. With his equanimity and my trepidation, Milton took over our Citroen station wagon, handling all its peculiarities with skill and confidence. Was this the determining event that later led to the West Tisbury view: "If you see a long line of cars moving slowly down State Road, you can usually be sure that Milton Mazer is in the lead."
Stories about Milton abound. He loved animals. His dog, Fred, became legendary when Milton served as moderator of the West Tisbury town meetings. In his later periods he favored cats. Cats reciprocated. At Long Hill, where he spent his last days, he was adopted by the house cat who would jump up to Milton, where he was resting after lunch, to sit comfortably on his stomach.
Throughout the years, life was not always kind to Milton and Virginia. We helped as best we could with both the physical and emotional stresses and concerns, as he and Virginia helped us in ours. There is much more to Milton's life than can be related here. He was a model to many, a guide and mentor to others, and a leader in community matters. He loved his family, his many friends, his colleagues, and his work. We last saw him in mid-September last year and understood when we left him that we would probably not see him again. But he has left a legacy of friendship, concern and involvement - a model for others to follow.