For the past several years, Robert Mickatavage has had the luxury of taking Fridays off from his ophthalmology practice.
By Robin Jovanovich
For the past several years, Robert Mickatavage has had the luxury of taking Fridays off from his ophthalmology practice. In his sights were hitting the links at Rye Golf Club and fishing off the marina where he keeps a boat. A little further afield was Mink Pond in the Poconos, where he would sometimes venture for bigger catch and the possibility of quiet.
But, recently, Bob arrived at a better plan: retirement.
“This July I would have been in practice for fifty years. I didn’t want to set a record,” said the longtime Rye resident, who cleaned out his Purchase office this week. Dr. Robert Latkany will continue the longstanding practice.
Bob’s first practice was in Yonkers, “the City of Gracious Living,” as his wife, who grew up there, affectionately calls it.
“I’d only been there six months when Frank Carroll and John Simonton asked me to join their practice in Rye. They wereboth extraordinary doctors. John was affiliated with New York Eye and Ear early. Frank, who was in charge of the Eye Department at United Hospital and ran a free clinic there, did tobacco-alcohol ambio studies using men from the Bowery whom he got to take B vitamins.
Bob taught in the eye clinic at New York Eye and Ear, which is down in lower Manhattan, but the commute got harder and harder. He was happy to practice in Rye and be affiliated with White Plains Hospital.
“Our office was in Blind Brook Lodge, which was ideal, but after they retired and United closed, and as the number of my handicapped patients increased, I recognized that it was time to move. It took the help of a policeman to carry some of my patients up the steps.”
Looking back, Bob said he was pleased to have been a “comprehensive ophthalmologist. “I always felt that if somebody did something better, I’d send a patient there. I was content to help people see who’d been having difficulty doing so. It was satisfying protecting glaucoma patients.”
And as Jane interjected as we sat at their dining room table, “Many diseases are diagnosed through the eyes.”
Fifty percent of brain tumors will have signs that you can pick up through an eye exam, noted Bob. Sadly, he saw two children for routine school exams for whom that was the case.
Otherwise, it has been a long and wonderful journey for Bob, who grew up in Ashland, Pennsylvania. “My dad was a coal miner. He had to leave school in eighth grade to go to work in the mines. I worked in the mines over the summer. It was a great stimulus to see him working in the mines.”
When he was in high school, a friend of the family gave Bob a copy of a book that inspired him to think about a career in medicine. The book was Paul de Kruif’s “Microbe Hunters,” published to great acclaim in 1926, and one of the first best sellers on a scientific subject.
“I knew I wanted to do delicate work with my hands,” recalled Bob, who was pretty adroit on an accordion. He’d taken lessons and played with local bands on Saturday nights. (Bob went on to play pluck & squeeze with Tom Hartley, who played a mean banjo. “The Dragon Coasters had us open for them so they sounded good.”)
He was a pre-dental student at Susquehanna University, when his father asked him if he really wanted to be a dentist, and not a doctor.
Another important thing happened at Susquehanna that would change Bob’s life; he met his future wife, who was studying to become a teacher. They were married his sophomore year of medical school at Temple University. They left the Northeast when he decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy, and they were stationed in Beaufort, South Carolina. They moved farther south when he was accepted into residency at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami.
They’re living in their fourth — and last — house in Rye. They raised their four children in a large home on Hillside Road near the old United Hospital, after renting one house and then buying another in the Glen Oaks neighborhood.
They are not the first members of the family to live in their current home on “lower Soundview.” Three of their four children did after college. “It’s been a good investment,” remarked Bob.
They have a view of the golf course and Long Island Sound, and close friends live up the street. Two of their 13 grandchildren, ages 9 to 22, live in Port Chester.
Jane said that she had no immediate plans to retire. They haven’t quite worked out who makes lunch, but otherwise the Mickatavages are content to just enjoy the town and the people they love.