LONG BEACH — Former city health officer Irving David Litwack, a noted physician who came to Long Beach in 1933 and helped patients through a major earthquake and a threatened polio epidemic, died Tuesday at Memorial Medical Center of Long Beach after a chronic illness. He was 78.
Throughout a medical career that spanned four decades, Litwack worked both as a private practitioner and a public health advocate. He was city health officer from 1947 to 1973, and upon retirement was praised in the Congressional Record as a "dedicated and invaluable public servant" instrumental in the formation of several voluntary health organizations.
"His whole life was medicine," recalled his son, Kenneth, who is a doctor in Newport Beach.
Litwack was born July 31, 1907, in Odessa in the Soviet Union. He was raised in Chicago and obtained his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Illinois.
He enlisted in the Navy and served a one-year internship at the Brooklyn Navy Hospital. He was stationed aboard the battleship Utah, which was anchored off Long Beach when the 1933 earthquake hit. He helped treat the injured at Seaside Hospital, which later became Memorial, and established a first-aid clinic.
A short time later, he met and married Edith Elaine and, in 1936, left the Navy to open a general practice downtown. On Fridays he performed free tonsillectomies and conducted charity clinics on various diseases.
The Navy recalled Litwack to active duty when World War II began in 1941. He served at the Long Beach Naval Station Hospital and later in Honolulu. Upon his discharge in 1944, he received postgraduate training in public health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and returned to Long Beach to become the city's public health officer.
When a polio epidemic threatened the city in the early 1950s, Litwack spoke out in support of using a vaccine that some residents feared might be tainted. The vaccine turned out to be safe. He also was a proponent of adding fluoride to city water to prevent tooth decay.
In 1957, Litwack received the Long Beach Jaycees Good Government Award and in 1966 he was named "Man of the Year" by the Jewish War Veterans. In 1968, he served as president of the Southern California Public Health Assn. and received its Outstanding Merit Award.
After retiring in 1973, he spent several years as a consultant to the state Department of Rehabilitation.
A funeral was conducted Thursday at Sunnyside Mortuary and Memorial Park in Long Beach. Litwack is survived by his wife, his son and three grandchildren.