An active member of Philadelphia's Jewish community, Dr. Judy Spitzer served at the forefront of medicine and physiology both as an inspired professor and prolific researcher.
Dr. Judy A. Spitzer, a Holocaust survivor who came to this country from Hungary in 1949 and built a stunning legacy of scientific and medical research, died Sept. 26 at age 83.
The Budapest native earned degrees in chemistry and biochemistry from Florida State University and the Albany Medical Center in New York, where she received her M.A., before graduating with a Ph.D. from Philadelphia’s Hahnemann Medical College in 1962. A groundbreaker, she was one of the first women to earn a doctorate there at the time.
The following year, Spitzer became a postdoctoral fellow in Oxford, England, working alongside Nobel Laureate Sir Hans Krebs, who pioneered cellular respiration research on his way to developing what was known as the Krebs Cycle, focusing on chemical reactions in the body.
As was the case with her time at Hahnemann and at Oxford, she partnered in research and family life with her husband, Dr. John Spitzer, with whom she shared the same passions for the duration of their 63 years of marriage (and 68-year relationship).
The two had met at a postwar birthday party in Hungary and were inseparable since. To understand one was to understand the other, says their daughter, Juliet.
In their joint eulogy, Juliet and her brother, Peter, called their mother “the nucleus around which we all revolved.”
As for their father: “She was the love of his life, his other half, his sunshine, his intellectual, spiritual and emotional closest companion, his soulmate.”
In 1973, the Spitzers moved from Hahnemann to the Louisiana State University Medical Center in New Orleans, with Judy serving as a professor of medicine and physiology.
There she maintained a prominent research cohort, which attracted multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health.
They returned to Philadelphia in the aftermath of destruction that was wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
With all her plaudits and accolades, never forgotten was the legacy of being a Holocaust survivor, one which she felt obligated to share with high school and college students, making frequent guest-speaking appearances at schools and universities in this area.
It was a story, also, of sisterly love and heroics: Dr. Spitzer and her sister, Ilona Friedman, escaped their Nazi-commandeered Hungarian ghetto during the war and made their way to safety. They escaped detection with the help of a non-Jewish family who helped them cloak their identity as Jews.
That was all part of a Holocaust legacy that infused Dr. Spitzer with an appreciation of the rights accorded Americans and a dedication and commitment to Israel.
That appreciation was manifested in a fund endowed by both Dr. Spitzer and her husband to assist students at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy to attend the Muss High School in Israel.
Both Spitzers were staunch supporters, too, of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which helped them during and after wartime.
Among her many passions — and those of her husband — were the performing arts and her own diurnal routine of doing crossword puzzles. But paramount was her family: Both she and her husband were happiest, reports their daughter, when surrounded by their children and grandchildren.
A statement from both her children added: “We think that she was a good mother and successful professionally because she was motivated by her past and worked hard.
“She was able to successfully balance her work life and home life, both of which were very gratifying.”
In addition to her husband, children and sister, Dr. Spitzer is survived by six grandchildren.