Ted Myers, doctor to the poor, dies at 83

Twenty years into a successful career in internal medicine, Dr. Ted Myers started over and became a psychiatrist.

Twenty years into a successful career in psychiatry, Myers did it again. This time, in the words of his son Marc, he “became a saint.”

In 1983, Myers made an improbable suggestion to his wife, Peggy: “Let’s go to Sudan.” Alone, the two went to set up medical programs for ailing refugees, with little help from the Sudanese government.

“He heard about Ethiopian Jews and about how they were among the 400,000 refugees in Sudan. Jews were having a really hard time; they were afraid to go to medical facilities, afraid of everything. Although we couldn’t set up a medical program for Jews — we’d have been kicked out of the country — we set up programs close to where Jewish refugees were,” recalled Peggy Myers.

Myers died in his San Mateo home on May 11 at age 83. And, just as she was on his journeys to Africa, Cuba and the former Soviet Union, Peggy was by his side.

After venturing to Sudan on his own, Myers connected with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. They sent Myers back to Sudan as a consultant and then to numerous trips throughout Ethiopia to aid the nation’s beleaguered Jews.

In the capital of Addis Ababa, Myers rounded up young Jews to become “home visitors,” tracking down Jews in every corner of the city and spreading word of the medical clinics. He established clinics throughout the nation — and infant mortality dropped markedly in those regions.

After Operation Solomon airlifted the bulk of Ethiopia’s Jews to Israel, the Joint sent Myers to Cuba and then to the former Soviet Union to establish clinics and train doctors.

“Up until the time of the collapse [of the Soviet Union], if you were a Jewish doctor, or a Jewish anybody, you were isolated in your own community, and we felt that it was important for these Jewish doctors to know each other,” Myers told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency during a 2006 training session held in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Myers was born in San Francisco, attended Lowell High School and went on to Stanford, where he was a tennis star. Tennis would go on to play a major role in Myers’ life: He played a few professional matches but, more significantly, he met Peggy on a tennis court in the late 1940s. The doubles partners married in 1950, and the two were seldom apart. They collaborated on “Faith and Survival: Ethiopian-Jewish Life, 1983-1992”: Ted wrote the text accompanying Peggy’s photo exhibit, which showed in New York in 1995 and was written up in the New York Times.

Myers died quite suddenly, sitting at home with a martini in his hand as he and his wife watched Frank Sinatra in “Guys and Dolls.”

“He went out smile on his face and a song in his heart,” said son Marc.

Myers is survived by his wife of 57 years, Peggy of San Mateo; daughters Melanie of San Mateo, Jennifer of San Rafael and Barbara of San Anselmo and sons Marc of New York City and James of Manhattan Beach.

Donations in Myers’ memory can be made to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, P.O. Box 530, 132 E. 43rd St., New York, NY, 10017.