By Harriet P. Gross
The New York Times usually runs incredibly comprehensive obituaries. So I was doubly intrigued and more than a bit disappointed when I saw, on Sept. 30, its report on the passing of Dr. Reubin Andres at his home a week earlier.
The two reasons? First — the headline: The deceased was “an advocate of weight gain,” it read. In this day of obsessive concern over obesity, how could one not be intrigued by that? Second — the name: “Andres” belongs to Dallas, Texas, not Baltimore, Md., which the Times gave as the place of his death.
It turns out that there’s a good reason for the headline. Dr. Andres was a gerontologist who “gained his widest attention for arguing controversially that weight gain in older people increases longevity,” according to the Times. And, yes: way down near the bottom of the lengthy piece was what I was looking for. “Reubin Andres was born in Dallas to Harry and Chaya Ruchel Andres, who owned and ran a grocery store. The family’s first language was Yiddish,” it said.
What the Times didn’t say was that Chaya Ruchel was a Yiddish poet of some importance and that Harry set an unmatched standard of sympathetic service repeated by his son Dave, who took over the store and extended credit freely to everyone with real problems paying. When Dave himself passed away, he left behind a basketful of IOUs, none of which he had even tried — or ever intended — to collect.
Dave’s wife, Ruth, gives heart and soul to the Dallas Jewish community and to all the city’s needy, as did her late husband. She is especially active with the Dallas Jewish Historical Society, where much of the Andres’ past and poetry is archived.
The Times gives a nod to the kind of respect that Reubin, like all of his family, had for Judaism. Born in 1923, he matriculated at Dallas’ Southern Methodist University when he was only 16 years old, but “left in 1941, just short of a degree, because he would not fulfill the school’s religion requirement.”
However, his excellent academic record allowed him to enter Southwestern Medical School. Before his graduation he joined the U.S. Army, which afterward sent him as a control expert on venereal disease and malaria to Japan and Korea. Times reporting is very terse on this part of his life: “While there, he contracted malaria,” it says, “but recovered.”
Good thing, too. Reubin became clinical director of the National Institute on Aging. In that post, he was “asked to address a conference on obesity and mortality, and not knowing much about the topic, began investigating the literature.”
What he found was that life insurance company weight recommendations, passed on to doctors as virtual gospel, were too high for the early part of life, too low for the later; those who lived longest weighed up to 20 percent more than what was supposed to be ideal.
“Prevailing wisdom held that the most healthful way to age was to maintain the same weight throughout adulthood,” the Times reported. But Dr. Andres disagreed: “ … people should start thin, then gain about six pounds a decade beginning in their early 40s.”
The Andres obituary quotes from an actual interview he gave the Times back in 1985: “For some reason, the idea has grabbed us that the best weight throughout the lifespan is that of a 20-year-old. But there’s overwhelming evidence now that as you go through life, it’s in your best interests to lay down some fat. It’s not my contention that the fatter the better; it is my contention that the desirable range rises with age.” People have been arguing with him and his findings ever since.
They have not, however, disagreed in the least with his pioneering Type 2 diabetes research. This culminated in the development of his much-honored glucose insulin clamp, a vital element in today’s study and testing of new drugs and interventions for people with the disease.
Reubin Andres might have spent his post-Army life as a Dallas physician if he hadn’t left here to spend a year at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore; that’s where he found out that he liked research enough to make it his career, and so that city became home for the rest of his life …
… which ended with a heart attack on Sept. 23 of this year. He was 89 years old, leaving to mourn him his wife, a daughter, three sons, seven grandchildren and all of us in Dallas who respect and honor the entire Andres family.