Early last month my dear friend and former partner Sam Pekarne DDS passed away after 87 years of living a life dedicated to enriching the lives of others. He began practicing dentistry some 65 years ago in his father’s hotel in mid-town Manhattan. A half century later, he invited me to join him as his partner and together we made” beautiful music” and beautiful smiles.
What follows is the eulogy I was honored to deliver at Sam’s funeral service. I want to share it with those who knew Sam long before I arrived on the scene and with those who knew me before Sam entered my professional life; for it is you who can appreciate the depth of our relationship and how ours was a match that was meant to be. (I believe the Yiddish term is bershert-fate.)
At first blush, Sam and I may have seemed like strange bed fellows. Sam being slight of build carried himself with a quiet yet classy demeanor. He had a gentle elegance and was so very soft-spoken. In fact, his low melodic voice was almost hypnotic lulling his patients into somnolent state of comfort as he practiced his craft. I, on the other hand, am quite a different package. Whereas Sam was subtle, I am, well, let’s just say…more overt.
But Sam and I were drawn to each other from the very start. Was it our shared values? Our passion for dentistry? Our love for our patients? Mutual respect? ….Yes to all of these things, but there was something more, something special, something profound…we shared the same heart….and from our first days together, to this very moment, I feel Sam right here (in my heart). And everyday that I go to the office….our office, Sam is with me.
I remember the day when Sam and I were working out the details of our partnership in his high priced attorney’s office with its spectacular views and intimidating ambience. This lawyer had just closed some mega deal like the Disney/AB C or the ABC/Capacity merger and here I was a small pisher of a dentist unrepresented by council totally out of my comfort zone going toe to toe with Mark (Sam’s son-in-law and attorney) about things I knew little of. At some point during our discussion/negotiations I turned away from Mark and looked into Sam’s gentle blue eyes and said, “Sam you’ve been in solo practice for 50 years. We will make great partners and I promise you will never regret this decision and we’ll have a blast. You have to trust me.”
Sam said four words…”Mike, I trust you.” And our “bro-mance” began. Oh and by the way, later that year I had the distinct honor/pleasure of performing root canal for Mark.
In his heyday, Sam was a wonderful and gifted dentist. The thing about being a dentist versus say a physician, is that we create little monuments, small delicate pieces of sculpture that reside in peoples mouths for decades. In fact many of you here today are still carrying around some of Sam’s handiwork. He literally and figuratively instilled a part of himself in you. He was really really good at what he did and so dedicated to his patients. If someone called in distress and he needed to go into the office on a Sunday, he’d do so in a heartbeat (assuming the Jets didn’t have a home game.) And he was so committed to being the best he could be that he remained a perennial student attending study clubs and continuing education courses right up until the day he hung up his hand piece. When dental implants arrived on the scene, Sam was one of the first clinicians in New York restoring them. He was cutting edge.
Sam was tireless. He was the little engine that could. He was able to get to the office at 7:15 in the morning, eat an egg sandwich with a cup of coffee and go, go, go without stopping until 7 or eight at night with only instant coffee for sustenance. That all changed when I arrived. No Folger’s crystals for my partner! I got a coffee maker.
When I joined Sam 17 ½ years ago, I was concerned about fitting into the practice. Sam enjoyed such close relations with so many of his patients and I was feeling a little out of my element. When I confided my worries to Sam, he was reassuring as only Sam can be and told me to just be myself. He was right. Sam was always watching out for me. We enjoyed each other so much that what was originally going to be a two-year transition became a 5-year marriage and an 18-year friendship.
It’s hard to believe that Sam retired 12 years ago at the age of 75. But he never stopped being a part of the office. And every year during the holidays, the entire office staff, Barbara, Sandy, Maira, Kimberly, Carmen, Meryl, Melissa, Sam, and I would go out to dinner, play silly games at the table, make a spectacle of ourselves and go to a show. Sam looked adorable in an elf’s hat.
This year Sam didn’t make it and it wasn’t the same without him.
Last year he rallied from his illness and hospitalization so well that he and I went to a Jet’s game. Cane in hand, I had to hold his arm, not to keep him from falling, but to slow him down. I was so sure that I would see Sam again after the holidays. Sadly, I was wrong.
I love Sam Pekarne. He was a special lovely man; and while he was small of stature, to all of us here, he was a giant. I feel blessed to have had him in my life. I feel honored to have been entrusted with his legacy in the profession he so cherished, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of the Pekarne family.
– Michael Sinkin