“Sy is the aspirational mentor that we all want to emulate,” said Dr. David Linehan, chairman of the surgery department at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who also holds the title Seymour I. Schwartz professor of surgery. Dr. Linehan praised Dr. Schwartz for “his towering intellect, spirit of collegiality, indefatigable work ethic, unending curiosity and enduring relevance.”
Dr. Craig R. Smith, the chairman of the surgery department at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, recalled Dr. Schwartz’s “insatiable intellectual curiosity” and called him “a polymath of the first order” who was “much, much more than just another academic surgeon.”
Seymour Ira Schwartz was born on Jan. 22, 1928, in the Bronx, to parents from Jewish immigrant families. His father, Dr. Samuel Schwartz, was a physician who taught anatomy at Polyclinic Hospital in Manhattan and whose family was from what is now Belarus. His mother was Martha (Yampolsky) Schwartz, who managed her husband’s medical practice and whose parents were from Poland.
A gifted actor in student productions at DeWitt Clinton High School, Sy was encouraged by his father to pursue a theatrical career, but decided to become a surgeon instead. Accepted by Yale but unable to afford the tuition, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin on a scholarship and completed his pre-med degree in two years.
He began medical school at Syracuse University, earned his degree from New York University and, in 1950, completed his internship at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.
In the 1960s, while serving on the University of Rochester’s admissions committee, he was appalled to learn that a highly qualified candidate was being rejected because he was Jewish. Dr. Schwartz inquired how he, a Jew from New York, had been admitted and was told that school officials had mistaken him for Sidney Schwartz, a young tennis star from Brooklyn.