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Slain doctor remembered for faith and zest for life

Dr. Ronald Gilbert is recalled as a caring physician and friend who loved music and recently moved so that he could walk to his synagogue.

January 30, 2013|By Nicole Santa Cruz and Rick Rojas,
Los Angeles Times
  • Dr. Ronald Gilbert, shown in an image provided by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, was gunned down in Newport Beach on Monday.
Dr. Ronald Gilbert, shown in an image provided by the California Department… (DMV )

He was remembered by patients and colleagues as a caring and talented physician, one who followed his father's footsteps into medicine. And his friends spoke of how devout he was in his Jewish faith as well as of his kindness and his zest for life.

"He was just a good soul," one colleague and friend said.

Now police are trying to determine why someone would walk into the urologist's Newport Beach offices and shoot him to death.

Dr. Ronald Gilbert was killed Monday in an exam room of his practice in the heart of a bustling medical community, allegedly gunned down by a 75-year-old retired barber who recently told a neighbor that he had cancer and didn't expect to live much longer.

Stanwood Fred Elkus of Lake Elsinore was arrested within seven minutes of the first call from the medical offices next to Hoag Memorial Hospital, authorities said. Elkus, who is being held on $1-million bail and is expected to be in court Wednesday, was described by neighbors as having problems with his prostate and undergoing surgeries. He recently told a neighbor that he believed he would soon be dead.

One neighbor, Sherry Martin, said that Elkus would always ride through his Riverside County neighborhood on his bike, wearing a baseball cap. Sometimes, he offered to give haircuts to neighbors.

But Elkus had run-ins with other neighbors in the past, including a dispute over bushes in a woman's backyard that was exacerbated into more than a year of Elkus allegedly taunting her family. Melissa Evans, 36, said that he would pass by on his bike or in his car, staring them down, or would harass their dog late at night.

"He just couldn't let it go," she said. "He couldn't let go of something so small."

Evans said the erratic behavior was so unsettling that she, her husband and three sons moved to a community 10 miles away. But even after they moved to Wildomar, she said, he was spotted driving by their new home about three months ago.

Gilbert's death, however, has prompted a different sort of reaction: an outpouring of warm memories and shock at his violent death.

Colleagues said Gilbert, 52, had an "impeccable" reputation, having worked as the chief of urology at Hoag Hospital from 1998 to 2002 and as a volunteer faculty member at UC Irvine's Medical School, from which he graduated in 1987. His research interests included sexual dysfunction and bladder and prostate cancer.

He had also developed a spray designed to treat premature ejaculation. Dr. Eugene Rhee, president of the California Urological Assn., said Gilbert was especially proud of that work. "It was a much-needed medication," Rhee said.

Bruce Sechler, 61, had been Gilbert's patient for about seven years. "Right off the bat," the Huntington Beach resident said, "he could put you at ease and make you feel like he was genuinely concerned about you as a person and your needs."

Gerry Crews, a close friend who had known Gilbert since their high school days in Whittier, said that he knew how to have fun too, and loved classic rock. He sang in a garage band with Crews' older brother in high school. But he also had a laser focus during his undergraduate years at UC Santa Barbara so that he could achieve his ambition of becoming a doctor like his father.

"I was not a hard worker in college; he was," Crews, 51, said. "From the start, he planned to go to medical school and he worked very hard to get into medical school."

Even with his focus on medicine, friends recalled that he had a unique ability to keep an open and balanced life. He held on to a deep appreciation for music, and would have jam sessions with his sons, who played guitar and drums. He also traveled and snow-skied.

Faith had also been a pillar in his life, friends say, influencing his choices and how he approached the world.

Crews said he moved from Tustin — where his old friends lived nearby — to Huntington Harbour so that he could be closer to his synagogue and walk there on the Sabbath. He had also retrofitted his kitchen to prepare kosher meals. And his oldest son had recently been living in Israel.

"On Saturdays," Gilbert's neighbor Betty Combs recalled, "they dressed to the nines and walked to synagogue."

Those who knew him also said he had built up a stable of friends over the years because he was willing to share his time and knowledge. Crews remembered him being a source of support on the two times his wife had breast cancer.

"He was generous of himself," said Tom Mayer, a longtime friend and a registered nurse who once worked at Hoag Hospital. "He gave you everything."

When he heard of a shooting at the Newport Beach medical campus, Mayer, 49, drove straight there from work in Mission Viejo, still dressed in his scrubs. He had called and texted Gilbert, but there was no reply. The next day, he recalled the impact Gilbert's unconditional friendship had on his life.

"He was a light," Mayer said. "He was someone who could be turned to, just to talk.... My life wouldn't be the same if I never met Ron."

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

rick.rojas@latimes.com

Times Community News staff writers Jill Cowan and Lauren Williams contributed to this report.

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