Dr. Shale Rifkin was prominent local surgeon

Dr. Shale Rifkin

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Dr. Shale Marshall Rifkin, a longtime highly regarded surgeon at Jewish Hospital (now Barnes-Jewish) who was a star athlete in high school and college, died Friday, Dec. 10 2010 at Delmar Gardens West Rehab, after what his family described as a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 88.

Dr. Rifkin’s medical career spanned nearly 50 years, and included an extensive career as a surgeon and general practitioner. He also trained generations of St. Louis physicians as an attending physician and as an adjunct professor at Washington University and St. Louis University.

A native of University City, Dr. Rifkin excelled in four sports at University City High School. At U. City, he was named to the All-State High School Football Team. Combining his love of sports and his pride in being a Jewish athlete, he adopted the middle name Marshall after Marshall Goldberg, a famous Jewish football player of his era.

Dr. Rifkin attended Washington University on a football scholarship and played two seasons as a halfback for the Bears. He interrupted his university education in October 1942 to serve in the U.S. Army. He served two years as a medical laboratory technician at Fitzsimons General Hospital in Denver. He then returned to Washington University, where he finished his undergraduate studies. He also attended Washington University School of Medicine, receiving his M.D. in 1948.

Dr. Rifkin finished his surgical training at City Hospital, and then joined the staff at Jewish Hospital. He also maintained a private practice in Clayton until he retired in 1997.

Longtime family friend Susan Fadem attended the funeral service for Dr. Rifkin at B’nai El Congregation on Sunday. “At least a third of those in attendance had been operated on by Shale, for tasks as simple as piercing ears or as lifesaving as removing tumors,” she said. “As a surgeon, Shale was so respected, Rabbi Daniel Plotkin said, that some claimed he had ‘the hands of God.’ The three offspring and six of the seven grandchildren shared their thoughts. The seventh grandchild, a granddaughter, was on her way to Israel on what she always knew would be the trip of a lifetime, a Birthright trip to Israel. Her grandpa wanted her to go.”

Dr. Rifkin was active in the local Jewish community, having been a longtime member of B’nai El Congregation, and the Men’s Club of the Jewish Community Center, where he had been an avid handball player. He married his wife, the former Molly Ostrow, in 1955. They lived in Olivette for many years. Despite the challenges of living with Parkinson’s disease, he was able to remain at home until the last month of his life, thanks to the efforts of his family and several caregivers.

In addition to his wife, survivors include a son, Dr. Robert “Bob” Rifkin (Rose) of Chesterfield and daughters Wendy April (Ben) of Ballwin and Kathy Kottwitz (William) of Houston; a sister, Audrey Ludwig (the late David) of Olivette and seven grandchildren. Donations may be made to B’nai El Congregation, 1142 North Outer Forty, Frontenac, Mo. 63131.