Making the most of the encore years

Photo: Mort Dubnow, left, and Mark Cohen

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni recently wrote the following: “The hell of aging is limits.”

Two longtime Valley physicians are dynamically and dramatically setting no limits to their retirement years. In fact, they are crafting new and challenging outlets for their energy, intellect and creativity.

Mark Cohen, 78, a Brooklyn native and a graduate of New York University medical school, is a former general surgeon who moved to the Valley with his wife, Shirley and their two children in 1973. He closed his Mesa practice some 20-plus years ago when an injury to his right hand affected his ability to handle instruments with facility.

An enthusiastic boat owner, in his early teens Mark attended a summer camp in Canada where he learned to sail, and in his second year of medical school he took sailing lessons for a while. Time passed until, years later, he was re-introduced to the sport when he attended a medical conference in San Diego. He rented a sailboat with a skipper, traveled to California from Arizona for lessons when he could, and even joined a sailing club. He’s owned his own boat since 1978.

“I’ve really gotten into it post-retirement,” he says. “I’ve crewed on race boats, even sailed long distances with friends as crew.” Now with some physical limitations, “I still love it,” he says. “So I was busy with sailing, swimming, racing, family matters – but what came at me was this ‘art thing.’”

He recalls that friends early on took note of his artistic potential and “harangued me,” he says, to take up bronze and aluminum casting. In high school, he had taken a class in casting, so he signed up here in the Valley at Shemer Art Center, “but all the students were artists – and I was a doctor!”

Encouraged by his teacher and with no idea what he was getting into, he says, he graduated to figurative sculpting, learning figure drawing, building figures from blocks of clay, studying pieces of sculpture – and learning the etiquette of working with nude models. He acknowledges that his knowledge of anatomy really helped. An annex to the home he shares with his wife, Shirley, is dedicated to figurative sculpting work.

“I had no idea that I would be any good at this, but it turns out that I am, and I really enjoy the process of going from a brick of clay to a bronze sculpture. Now I live in a social setting in an adult community, have my own studio, and derive a great deal of pleasure in the creative process.”

“I am no longer just a retired physician,” Mark says. “I am a sculptor.” And he adds with a grin, “often of naked women!”

A native Chicagoan and graduate of the University of Illinois School of Medicine, Mort Dubnow and his wife, Paula, and their three children settled in Phoenix in 1968, after he served for two years as an army captain in Fort McClellan, AL. He joined a Central Phoenix internal medicine practice and, from his early years here, he has pursued varied challenges, both physical and intellectual. He maintains a strict physical fitness regimen and is regularly recertified in his field. He is a voracious reader, most recently completing the four-volume history of LBJ by Robert Caro.

Perhaps closest to his heart, however, is his increasing mastery of classical guitar. “I had a background in piano and can read music,” he says, and he was continuously encouraged by a patient, a music teacher, with whom he studied guitar for several years.

“I love all music,” Mort says, “but there is something very special, emotional and intimate about classical guitar.” He spends hours practicing his repertoire, primarily of Spanish and Latin American composers. His favorite guitar, one of several in his collection, is crafted of Brazilian rosewood. His progressive proficiency with the instrument and the music “adds so much to my life,” he says.

The day in 2013 when, at age 76, he formally retired from his fulltime medical practice, Mort broadened his “pursuit of loves and passions.” He signed up for a thrice-weekly Interlingua Spanish language class.

“Living in Arizona and with the progression of Spanish speakers in the U.S. and the fact that I enjoyed language studies in my school years – I thought it would be fun.” More than fun, it turns out.  “It was phenomenal,” he says. “We spoke no English from the first day of class!”  As his competency flourished, he participated in three two-week “entertaining, stimulating and unique” Spanish immersion trips – in Guatemala., Peru and most recently in Mexico. And he continues to meet with a teacher several times a month.

Missing the “hands-on aspects and personal connections” of providing medical care, Mort has joined a local office and sees patients a few days a week, “allowing me time to do more of one of the things I love to do.”

Call it “re-wire-ment” or “re-fire-ment,” both Mark and Mort are living their senior years with gusto.

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