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50 Years Later, Woman Pediatrician Calls It Quits

June 27, 1986|KAREN LAVIOLA | Karen Laviola

Dr. Mary Elizabeth Tiffin has taken down her shingle after nearly 50 years of practicing medicine in Los Angeles.

"I better never be sick again," said 10-year-old Michael Adams as he watched the 74-year-old pediatrician remove pictures from her office in the Larchmont Medical Building.

Her young patients say Tiffin was so accessible, they felt comfortable riding their bikes to her Hancock Park home. She even made house calls--often in the middle of the night. "If you go in someone's home, you immediately get a feel for the family," the doctor explained.

Tiffin and her late husband, Dr. John G. Clegg, had four children. Her father and husband were doctors and two of her sons are doctors.

It was difficult working full-time and rearing children, Tiffin said, especially during World War II when her husband was gone. Her practice grew considerably during that time, she noted, because "there were no men left." She was one of two women to graduate from Stanford University Medical School in 1937.

Thirty years ago when she tried to scrub for a Caesarean, there was no place for her to change clothes. "Men can be very nice to you but you don't go in the locker room with them," Tiffin said. At one hospital, she had difficulty parking in the doctors' lot, she recalled, and also encountered problems at pharmacies.

"They said I didn't look like a doctor. I don't know how a doctor is supposed to look," Tiffin said.

"She is very practical, quiet and unassuming. Children relax very easily around her," said Marilyn McLarnan Thomas, 44, whose mother took her and her sisters to Tiffin when they were born. Thomas, in turn, took her five children to Tiffin.

Another admirer, Linda Adams, took her six children to Tiffin for 18 years. "My 18-year-old son went to another doctor the other day and when he came home, he asked, 'Do you think Dr. Tiffin is tired of being retired yet?' "

Tiffin said she plans to relax--travel, garden and read.

Big Sisters, Big Boost

Twelve-year-old Tracy was neglected, often locked out of her house by an alcoholic mother. She went to school dressed in dirty clothes and barely passed her classes. The school referred her to Big Sisters of Los Angeles which, in turn, found her a friend named Beth Ann.

In the two intervening years, Beth Ann, a 26-year-old single office worker who went through a five-month investigation before becoming a big sister, has taught Tracy basic survival skills--cooking, personal hygiene and sewing. Beth Ann also helped Tracy obtain a library card and improve her reading skills.

For the 130 girls, ages 6 to 16, who are now being assisted by the organization, big sisters often become role models who open their little sisters' eyes to new ways of thinking about education, career choice and life style.

Janet Schulman, executive director of Big Sisters, says families who come to them "are showing a lot of love by asking for help in giving their daughters the opportunities they deserve."

A big sister is asked to spend three to five hours a week with her young friend for at least one year, though Schulman hopes "it turns into a long-term" match. The private, nonprofit organization, has one county grant; most of its funding comes from events sponsored by a volunteer board.

In addition to financial support, Big Sisters of Los Angeles is also seeking minority women to be big sisters. For information call (213) 933-5749.

Bright Kids, Bright Future

By the age of 3, Joshua Zucker had learned to subtract. At that same tender age, he told his father: "Daddy, Kissinger's in Paris." While strapped in his car seat, Josh had read it in a newspaper left in the car.

Now 16, Zucker has finished his junior year at Palisades High School and has been accepted to enter Stanford in the fall (he was accepted at Princeton, UC Berkeley and Caltech, as well). He has also chalked up two years of college credit at UCLA, finished intensive math training at the U.S. Naval Academy (after finishing 13th out of 360,000 high school students in the United States Mathematical Olympiad) and is in the training program for the U.S. Physics Olympiad team which will send the top 20 students to a London competition on July 11.

His parents, J. Steven and Lynne Zucker, have doctoral degrees from Stanford--he in electrical engineering and she in sociology. Their 10-year-old daughter, Danielle, having skipped a grade, will be a sixth-grader at a West Los Angeles Montessori school.

The Zuckers say they have made an effort to send their children to schools for gifted children or to get them into programs for the gifted at public schools.

Josh's parents and his high school math teacher, Gloria Kalman, attribute some of his success to Walter Reed Junior High's Individualized Honors Program and its math and science teacher, William Fitz-Gibbon.

"Josh has very good abilities, but he also had the opportunity to develop them," Fitz-Gibbon said. "There is a great need in our society to develop our more able students."

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