Dr. Andrews: A Trailblazer by
(85 Stories)

Prompted By Family Medicine

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This prompt gave me the opportunity to write about my pediatrician, Dr.Elizabeth Torrey Andrews. In a weird coincidence, I googled her and discovered an obituary in the Reed College magazine, the college my younger son graduated from. Dr. Andrews was only a Reedie for one year (1923), then transferred to the University of Oregon, following her father (who was, incidentally, Reed’s first biology professor) when he accepted a position there. She attended the University of California Medical School, Berkeley, then earned an MD from Johns Hopkins University in 1927, specializing in pediatrics.

By the time our paths crossed in the 1950s, Dr. Andrews had worked at Bellevue Hospital in New York and taught at NYU. She published an article in the American Journal of the Diseases of Children based on her research in the “bacteriology, epidemiology, and pathology of pneumonia.” She was married and had two sons, who moved with her to Berkeley in 1940. She held  a position as a physician for the WPA nursery schools in Alameda County, and during WWII she worked part time in the local health department: Rosie the physician.

She joined the Kaiser Permanente Medical Group in Richmond, my home town, in 1950. I remember her as having grey hair, horn-rimmed glasses, a raspy voice, and always wearing a skirt and high heels. She had a no-nonsense approach to medicine and did not suffer fools (or hovering parents) gladly. And I’m sure this attitude made her great at what she did, including starting a teenage clinic. (She retired in 1973, the year I got  married!) Her death is listed as April 16, 2000. My best guess is that she was around 95 years old.

The last time I saw Dr. Andrews, she was sitting on a bench on Russell St. in the Elmwood district of Berkeley. She was quite old by this time, and I believe she was smoking a cigarette. I approached her, as I’m sure hundreds of her patients had done over the years, and introduced myself. She nodded and smiled and didn’t disagree when I said, “I bet you don’t remember me, but I was your patient…” Considering that I had a near concussion, two broken arms, allergies, tonsillitis, pneumonia, and occasional bouts of croup–she might have remembered me, but I’ll never know. She was my doctor until I was in my early teens, and I had great respect and affection for her, despite her sometimes gruff manner. I couldn’t imagine her being anyone’s wife or mother, the way children often feel about their teachers. She was simply Dr. Andrews, and probably lived at the hospital.

She could’ve lived here

Dr. Andrews must have been a force to be reckoned with to have accomplished all she did during her lifetime. The Reed obituary also mentioned that she was “an elected member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee for many years,” and that she “traveled extensively throughout Central America and Europe.”

I wonder how many times she broke the glass ceiling in her professional career. I can see her now: white coat, high heels, red lipstick applied in a slapdash manner (probably smeared from her last puff on a cigarette), looking at me over her glasses and telling me to say “ahhh.” I wonder what she thought of this mischievous, accident-prone little girl she took good care of for so many years. Even though she didn’t (couldn’t possibly) remember me, during that chance encounter in Berkeley I wanted her to know I remembered her and was grateful to her for being my doctor. I’m glad I got the chance to tell her.


Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Thanx Risa for introducing us to Dr Andrews who sounds indeed like a force to be reckoned with, a mover and shaker, a glass ceiling breaker, and obviously a damn good pediatrician.

    You were indeed lucky to have had her as your doctor – whether she remembered you of not, you remembered her and that’s what counts!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Marvelous character study of a real character, Risa. As you point out, she broke lots of glass ceilings, didn’t suffer fools or hovering parents, but took great care of her patients, including one accident-prone little girl! You paint a vivid picture and how marvelous that you got a chance to thank her for her care at the end of her life. She may not have remembered you (despite the fact that you were often in need of her services), but she made a lasting impression on you and you were able to acknowledge that. I’m sure that made you both feel good.

    • Risa Nye says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Betsy. She had to be a tough cookie to do what she did. All these years later, I’m impressed! Proud to have known her and to have been her patient. I wonder if my parents knew anything about her, or did they just get lucky to have her be my pediatrician!

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    This is a loving tribute to Dr. Andrews. You describe her in a way the makes her come to life for the reader. It was unusual to have a female physician back then. You were lucky to have that experience.

  4. Marian says:

    Very inspiring story of an influential person who broke barriers. She obviously made a big impression on you. And, she’d have to be tough in that era to have accomplished what she did. Brava to Dr. Andrews.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Others have now nicely expressed it, but I join in the accolades forr Dr. Andrews and your terrific ability to capture her, Risa. Gruff she may have been, but what a glas-breaking inspiration. And just a damn good doctor who truly understood that, ideally, her profession was a calling. I am so glad that you got to thank her for all of this. And also for sharing her — and your story — with us.

  6. Suzy says:

    Wow, a woman doctor in the ’50s! You were very lucky, Risa. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful portrait of Dr. Andrews.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Her life sounds very interesting, a real trailblazer and smart cookie! She would have been working in a very male-dominated time, and had to be twice as good as most of them to make it. Great description, and so glad you did say hello when you had the chance.

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