Long before he was a doctor, famed as a diagnostician, Kenneth Ewing was the captain of the Guatemala national soccer team. That made him a double legend in my eyes.
Dr. Ewing passed on Sept. 1, leaving a lot of us bereft. At the crowded wake on Saturday, people traded stories about voicing vague discomfort and how Ewing discovered the underlying problem.
The guestbook from the funeral home tells about his talent for saving lives.
His was an old-fashioned practice, in a big old house near the bay in Port Washington, Long Island, attracting the olla podrida, the grand mix, of our town – old ladies he greeted courteously, commuter types, a track coach and former Olympian (I could only imagine the dialogue between those two) plus the new hopeful generation from Central America.
It was an eclectic clubhouse, teammates drawn by the charismatic and talented star, who would poke his head through the door and summon his patients. I was “Professor.” Another guy was Flaco – Skinny.
I started going to him when my doctor, a very good friend of mine, was away a lot on business. I asked Dr. Ewing about soccer, and he told me he had played for Guatemala and then professionally in Toluca, Mexico, to finance medical school, and then moved to the United States.
He told about a friendly match in Guatemala with the touring Real Madrid stars, Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano.
“Another world,” he said admiringly. “Those guys could do things you never saw before.”
He told about playing in front of hostile crowds in El Salvador or Honduras, never quite qualifying for the World Cup. Known as Tony Ewing back then (his middle name was Anthony), he was admired for his soccer, and for his second career.
In 1989, Guatemala was playing the USA in New Britain, Conn. Dr. Ewing was going up with some countrymen in a chartered van and I was covering the match. He had told me about another Guatemala legend, the old equipment man, from back in the day.
An hour before the match, I spotted a little old man lugging jugs of water toward the Guatemala bench. He looked to be 100 years old. I introduced myself and asked if he knew Kenneth Ewing.
“Conoce Ewing?” he asked with awe. You know Ewing?
“Es mi doctor,” I said. He’s my doctor.
I told him how popular Ewing was in my town. Then I watched the old man step proudly toward the field. Later, I wrote this: :
Ewing was as formidable in his practice, specializing in cardiology, as he must have been as a defender. He liked to be in charge. I learned early on that the worst possible thing I could do was raise a medical point: “Hey, I was reading on the Internet…” His response was as terse as a hip check to a marauding forward: “You think I’m trying to kill you?” I knew a patient he had flat-out fired because he didn’t follow orders.
I’ve never seen him so furious as when I neglected the blatant symptoms of shingles while I was in California covering the World Series. I came home with a rampaging case of Bell’s Palsy right up my facial nerve toward my eye. He took 30 seconds to totally ream me out, then picked up the phone and had me in a neurologist’s office within an hour, and I escaped visible damage, probably by minutes. For the next six months, he shook his head at me in disdain.
A checkup could take a while. He was one of those doctors who work with their hands, getting up close, making sure the system is in working order. At the same time, he would be talking about a Mexico match on television the night before.
He insisted he could drive out the Expressway on Sunday morning to fields where teenagers and adults had moves never seen on the US national team. I am sure the US federation would love to find the next Maradona on Long Island, or anywhere, but I knew my place and rarely argued with him.
He was a private man but I learned his son Paul (PK) is an Annapolis graduate and Marine major, now retired. His wife Pauline was a teacher. He comes from a family of pro-fessionals, scattered around the world. I once inquired about the name Ewing and he said, “What, you think there weren’t slaves in Guatemala?”
Last February I was about to pick Germany to win the World Cup. I went in for a checkup and asked the doctor who would win. Germany, he said. Brazil was too fragile. In journalism we call this a second opinion.
Kenneth Ewing was a god to many of his patients, and also to his colleagues. One orthopedist told me with visible relief how he had spotted my mother's problem before Ewing saw her.
It was pretty clear Dr. Ewing was not well in recent years, but I never asked. This June I was scheduled to plug my World Cup book at the local library, and I invited Dr. Ewing to join me. I wanted people in town to know him not only as a famed doctor but also as an athlete who had once played with Puskas and Di Stefano, a neighbor who had gone to four World Cups as a fan.
Somebody who knew him warned me there was no chance in the world the doctor could make it at 7 PM because he needed to go home and rest every evening, but there he was, sprightly and charming, up for the big game.
I went to see him in the hospital a couple of weeks ago. One Guatemalan family, thriving in their second home, had driven up from New Orleans, to bring him familiar food. A nurse had come over from St. Francis Hospital, his home base, bringing home-made bread he loved. The doctor and I chatted for 15 minutes, but only about soccer. Captains must show no weakness.
As I left, he praised me for looking in good shape.
“I’ve got a good doctor,” I said.
9/7/2014 09:32:55 am
Wow. Not sure which is more lovely – the post, or the column you linked to. I’m going to send the post right now to my sister-in-law, who’s doing her residency in El Salvador, and my best friend from college, who’s a doctor at N.Y. Presbyterian. Thanks for these, George.
9/9/2014 03:12:17 am
Beautiful. We all should have such a doctor. Thank you.
9/9/2014 04:16:59 am
Thanks, guys. I keep hearing stories about him coming to the hospital in a snowstorm to see a patient, or discovering a major problem from vague symptoms.
9/9/2014 06:52:55 am
A beautiful and fitting tribute, George. Thank you. I was a patient of Dr. Ewing for about 6 months, in early 1978. I had contracted viral hepatitis while doing service work in Mexico and was in a pretty sorry state when I returned to NY. My family urged me to go to Dr. Ewing -- the word was out that he was an outstanding physician -- a point-of-view confirmed by my wife's aunt who knew him from the lab at St. Francis Hospital. Indeed I was in good hands. Periodically he would get on my case when my enzyme levels got too high -- which meant more rest, less golf. But I did recover. We both shared a good laugh when I told him that I was diagnosed in Mexico City by a British expat MD. And here I was on the North Shore of LI being treated by a black Guatemalan doc. Port Washington was hardly a diverse town back then. What a gift he was to Port. Thanks, George, for this great tribute. Much of it was new to me, especially his accomplished futbol career and his enduring love of the game. Lucky for you to have been able to share that with him over all these years. Best regards.
9/9/2014 10:23:55 am
Peter, thanks so much for sharing this. He touched so many lives. As Port became more diversified, so did his waiting room. GV
9/11/2014 03:45:23 am
It is the time for appreciation of Dr. Ewing's life, which your column surely delivers on and without taking away from him, I must add that, once again, your great humanism makes the story even more attractive.
9/11/2014 04:18:07 am
Dr. Ewing was truly a gem. Unfortunately, we rarely learn about the many good people like him who exist in our troubled world.
9/11/2014 06:20:26 am
Thanks, guys. one guy told me about winding up in the ER overnight, and Ewing showed up at dawn, dove onto the edge of the bed and growled, "What is wrong with YOU?" shock therapy indeed. GV
9/24/2014 12:07:47 pm
Thanks george. He's been my dr and friend for 45 years and saved my life 3 times. I miss him
10/21/2014 10:09:37 pm
i have mentioned many ways to keep your dog healthy
10/29/2014 10:40:39 am
I am a road warrior and in 1983 I moved from Minneapolis to New York to work for a nationally known PW company. I had been misdiagnosed for a lower back pain by 3 physicians in the midwest. One of my new colleagues said I must meet Dr. Ewing. Ken literally saved my life. I was 33. To this day, and throughout all of my travels and all of the cities I have lived in- I would always come home to Ken- for annual physicals, check-ups-prequels to long-stay off-shore trips, and most importantly to discuss the politics of the day, the things we all do to help others- and he WAS the BEACON of excellence in that category, and my hero as well. He never hesitated to ask me for business advice and counsel for his friends kids- in tech and other sectors. If he asked- I delivered. Always. In addition to his love for futbol', and his competitive brilliance- he was an elegant man- loved his family - who and with whom I have never met- but he regaled me with delicious stories- all loving, humorous and above all with heart. And what a heart. I am in San Diego this week, and was planning to be in PW for a meeting on the 31st, and for my quarterly visit, check up and annual flu shot with Ken. Regrettably I have just learned of his passing. With all my heart, love, respect and trust- above all trust- I pay homage to a gifted, giving talent- that we can only hope to know and see in this lifetime. My condolences to his family and his closest friends.
3/10/2015 03:28:49 pm
Mr. Vecsey, esto es mi Tio Tony.
Miguel Leal Jr.
10/25/2015 09:20:15 pm
I believe that Guatemalan family you are referring to is my mother Ingrid Leal and my father Miguel Leal. Tony Ewing was my godfather. I know my dad and him spoke on a regular basis. Although I did not speak to him nearly as often I'm glad to hear what an impact he had on other people's lives. I'll never forget as a young teen when he came to Louisiana to visit he gave me $50. I bought a transformer which I still have to this day. R.I.P padrino.
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.