Updated: January 23, 2013
The Lichter Family Establishes the Dr. Max and Buena Lichter Research Professorship
To honor the memory of both their father, Dr. Max L. Lichter, a distinguished family physician, and their mother, Buena, brothers Allen S. Lichter, M.D. and Paul R. Lichter, M.D., both renowned physicians themselves today, along with their wives, Evie and Carolyn respectively, have made a commitment to establish the Dr. Max and Buena Lichter Research Professorship.
"Family Medicine is a field that historically hasn't had a lot of endowed professorships established," said Allen Lichter, M.D., former dean of the U-M Medical School and now the chief executive officer of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Often patients who endow chairs do so after a major medical event, such as a life-saving surgical procedure, and tend to honor the work of surgeons and other specialists rather than their family doctor. "That we had an opportunity to establish a professorship in family medicine, which our father was so devoted to, made this an ideal situation," he added. According to Paul Lichter, M.D., Chair of the U-M Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Director of the W.K. Kellogg Eye Center, it was important to both sons to establish a research-focused professorship specifically.
Both parents appreciated the importance of solid research programs. "Our father was always was interested in the research Allen and I were involved in and that our departments were involved in, so supporting research in our father's field of family medicine was very important to us in part because we know how meaningful it would have been to him and to our mother.
Research, particularly clinical research, which this professorship could well end up supporting, is critical in terms of delivery of care." Born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1909, Dr. Max Lichter earned his medical degree from Wayne State in 1934. He completed his internship in Detroit and served as a Navy flight surgeon during World War II. He built his own private general medical practice in Melvindale, Mich., a Detroit suburb.
He ran the practice for five decades, delivering three generations of babies and performing minor surgeries. "He was the old-time family doc," said Allen. "This was in an era when medicine was different. If you came to him, he would see you. Insurance forms were not as critical as they are today. If all you had [to give as payment] was a loaf of bread you'd baked or some flowers from your garden, he'd say, 'We'll let it go at that.' There were a lot of nights he'd come home with a chicken," Allen recalled.
Community health and prevention were important to the elder Dr. Lichter. He served as the director of school health services for the Melvindale-Allen Park school system from 1935 until 1983. He attended school athletic events and "ran the whole operation to take care of students," Paul recalled. He was actively involved with the U.S. Public Health Service and served as special consultant to the divisions of Health Mobilization and Indian Health. He was also a member of the Surgeon General's advisory committee on hospital management.
Closer to home, Dr. Lichter chaired the Hypertension Coalition of Metro Detroit and served as President of the Tuberculosis and Health Society of Wayne County. He was involved in organized medical professional associations, too, including key American Medical Association and Michigan State Medical Society committees. When he was 75, he left his practice to direct the Community Health Department at Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn. There he launched a program in health promotion, funded by a grant he had received from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Dr. Lichter had been one of the founding physicians of the hospital and the former chief of staff from 1966 to 1972.
Dr. Lichter was a Diplomate of the American Board of Family Practice, a designation earned after taking an exam "entirely voluntarily in his 70s even though he was grand-fathered during the time of his practice and had no need to become board certified," Paul said. "He passed on his first try, a testament to his intelligence and perseverance and his drive to stay current in his field."
Helping others was also a passion of Buena's. She was intensely dedicated to Hadassah, a Jewish women's advocacy organization, and Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. "She recognized the excellence of the research there and how important it was to helping people - not just in Israel but all over the world," Paul Lichter says. She served as president of the Detroit Chapter of Hadassah, and supported many other groups, as well. "Helping others was what she lived for, whether it was with family, friends, or an organization," he adds.
Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D., emeritus faculty and the first George A. Dean, M.D. Chair of Family Medicine notes that "the Department of Family Medicine is especially proud to be the department home of such an extraordinary gift, from both a current Department Chair and a former Dean of the Medical School, that supports the Dr. Max and Buena Lichter Research Professorship in Family Medicine and honors such remarkable people."