The Ever Ebullient Ephraim Engleman’37, Now 103, Looks Back with Pride and Joy


Peter Wortsman

Centennials generally celebrate institutions, nations, and such. “My Century,” a new memoir by the distinguished rheumatologist Ephraim P. Engleman’37, as told to Matthew Krieger, celebrates the life of a one-man institution. Age 102 at the date of the book’s publication, Dr. Engleman has been saluted on national television (“NBC Nightly News” and “CBS News”), National Public Radio, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Huffington Post, among other media outlets, and California Gov. Jerry Brown issued a proclamation, calling him “a model of longevity and strong work ethic.”

Dr. Engleman still advises selected patients, sits at the head of the UCSF Rosalind Russell Medical Research Center for Arthritis, which he has directed for 34 years, and plays his Stradivarius violin. He also happens to be one of the most dynamic and positive individuals of any age. This writer had the privilege of interviewing him for an alumni profile (Spring/Summer 2009 issue) and has since struck up a friendship. Dr. Engleman still responds more promptly to emails than anyone else, typically signing off “Stay well and keep young!”

In a life that spans much of the 20th century and spills into the 21st, he started out as a violinist in the orchestra of a silent movie house and went on to a stellar career as one of the founding fathers of American rheumatology. “The longer you live, the more goodies you receive,” writes Dr. Engleman. Among the goodies he received are gold medals from the American College of Rheumatology and the P&S Alumni Association, the Ephraim P. Engleman Distinguished Professorship in Rheumatology, a Medal of Honor, and the renaming of the research center he helped found as the Rosalind Russell-Ephraim P. Engleman Medical Research Center for Arthritis, at UCSF, where he has spent the greater part of his career.

So what’s the secret? “The best childhood personality predictor of longevity, I was a bit surprised to read,” Dr. Engleman writes, “is conscientiousness. It’s so un-sexy, but it does describe me as a child and an adult.” A happy marriage is right up there near the top of his list of “10 Tips on Longevity.” He has been married to his wife, Jean, for 72 years and counting.

“The fourth major predicator [of longevity],” he adds, “is having good, challenging work.” Training at the Joseph H. Pratt Diagnostic Hospital in Boston, affiliated with Tufts University at the time, then at Mass General, he witnessed the advent of cortisone, among other medications and innovations, and himself helped foster a veritable revolution in the treatment and care of arthritis and other joint diseases. At UCSF he was the first in Northern California to offer cortisone treatments. A past president of the American Rheumatism Association, he was elected in 1975 to chair the National Commission on Arthritis, “charged by Congress to study in depth the clinical, social, and economic effects of arthritis on American society and to recommend specific actions to improve the situation.” Among the committee’s recommendations, he writes, “the one I’m proudest of is the creation of the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.”

Music is a second theme that runs throughout this memoir. A collector of vintage violins, including one dubbed the “Engleman” Stradivari, Dr. Engleman continues to perform in public. His repertoire bridges the divide between classical and popular music. His biggest stage success, he recalls, was “as a member and unofficial master of ceremonies of the Family Club in San Francisco, at age 95, imitating Mick Jagger flamboyantly dressed in wig, glasses, and leather vest, singing ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.’”

Well, maybe Mick couldn’t, but Eph sure can! Better than that, the reader is guaranteed satisfaction.

The book is available only through All of the author’s proceeds from book sales go to the Rosalind Russell-Ephraim P. Engleman Medical Research Center for Arthritis at UCSF.