Dr. Charles Lowman at Age 95 Is Still Straightening Out Kids
On a Saturday morning visitors at Hollywood-Burbank airport might pause to watch a spry but obviously elderly gentleman climb into the co-pilot’s seat of a twin-engine airplane which takes off for the south. It is Dr. Charles Leroy Lowman, age 95, en route to see patients at the orthopedic clinic in Calexico, Calif. that he helped to establish 14 years ago and to consult at the physical therapy center in Mexicali.
At the clinic, working with a team of three residents and three surgeons (one of whom, Dr. Robert Nichols, pilots the plane), Dr. Lowman sees as many as 100 patients, all of them children. They have been waiting patiently for the legendary surgeon to remove casts, diagnose malformations and injuries and recommend operations. The surgery is subsequently performed at the Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital, which Dr. Lowman founded in 1922 and where he still works five days a week. “It is important to catch youngsters while they are still growing like trees,” says Dr. Lowman.
When he first began practicing medicine in 1908, Dr. Lowman made his house calls on horseback or in a buggy. Today the airborne nonagenarian is the oldest practicing orthopedist in the United States. Last year, for his contributions to medicine and to his fellow citizens, President Nixon conferred on Dr. Lowman the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. He is only the sixth physician to receive it.
In February 1,200 people—leaders of Los Angeles, distinguished colleagues and some of his lifetime total of 210,000 patients—honored the old doctor with a post-95th birthday celebration at the Hollywood Palladium. For Dr. Low-man the high point was a personal message of tribute from President and Mrs. Ford.
Charles Leroy Lowman was born on Christmas day in Park Ridge, Ill. Both his paternal grandparents were physicians. Young “Roy” arrived in Los Angeles in January 1900 to attend the University of Southern California Medical School, served his internship in Los Angeles, then went to Boston to study orthopedic surgery. Back on the West Coast, he became the only orthopedist between San Francisco and New Orleans, traveling through five states to practice. In 1909 he established the Southwest’s first orthopedic clinic in Los Angeles.
It was a forerunner of his orthopedic hospital, the largest treatment center for bone and muscle disorders in the Southwest. Dr. Lowman likes to speak of his work as “straightening out children” and adds that “ortho” is Greek for straighten, while “paid” means child. He is both passionate and visionary about children and their health care, insisting, “We must be interested in the total aspect of the child. And the important thing is to give the child a good self-concept. Don’t bawl him out for having flat feet or slumping. Just tell him that if he wants to be a good runner or play baseball, you can help him.” The astonishingly trim and healthy old-timer also says of children, and of himself as well, “The time to get ready for your old age is when you’re young.”
Widowed in 1968, Dr. Lowman married his present wife, Mary, who is 68, in 1972. “He’s always complimenting me,” Mary beams. “He never says an unkind word.” They live in the Hollywood Hills overlooking Los Angeles, where the doctor tends to the trees he planted on one-and-a-half acres. Mrs. Lowman insists that her most difficult task is slowing Dr. Lowman down. The impatient doctor replies, “Keeping active at something you love to do, and being around a lot of young people, is my formula for longevity.”