Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

He Died While He Was Working to Help Others; Friends Recall Rothenberg's Unselfish Acts

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

He Died While He Was Working to Help Others; Friends Recall Rothenberg's Unselfish Acts

Article excerpt

Byline: SUSAN D. BRANDENBURG, Times-Union correspondent

When he died earlier this month at age 52, after a 14-foot fall from the roof of the pediatric ward on the Island of Grenada's General Hospital, Elie Rothenberg of Fruit Cove was a very old man.

At his Mandarin funeral attended by more than 300 people Oct. 6, Rabbi Gary Perris told the ancient tale of a mystic who entered heaven and heard the announcement: "The young man is coming. Open the gates." To the mystic's astonishment, the "young man" entering heaven appeared to be well over 100 years old. Just then, he heard: "The old man is coming. Open the gates." The mystic was perplexed at the sight of a young man in his twenties until the mystery was explained to him.

"Life is not measured in quantity, but in quality," he was told. The "young man," in spite of his advanced age, had done little of value in his life. The "old man," who had been on earth a short time, had lived as God intended -- packing every moment of his life with good works.

"The people of Grenada do not deserve this. The entire country is mourning for Elie," Grenadian pediatrician Beverly Nelson said at Rothenberg's funeral. "Elie endeared himself to everyone. He was so passionate about helping people. The children, especially, loved him."

A local building contractor and the only non-medical member of Childrens Health Organization, Resource and Education Services, a group of pediatric specialists who have gone to Grenada twice a year for 15 years, Rothenberg traveled solo on his last trip to the island after it was devastated by Hurricane Ivan.

"It was Elie we needed desperately, and he came," Nelson said. "He fixed that roof before he fell to his death. We're naming the pediatric ward after him."

For one Grenadian girl named Shen Gibbs, the loss of "Mr. Elie" was particularly devastating. While CHORES surgeons and physical therapists labored during the past two years to straighten her legs and enable her to walk for the first time in her life, Rothenberg became her close friend.

"Elie made Shen laugh," said physical therapist Debbie Sells. "She couldn't have endured the pain without him. …

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