Taos attracts interesting people and Dr. Neal Friedman remains a prime example.
During an interview Thursday (Jan. 12), just before a 10-day ski trip to Colorado, he spoke about his life and what drew him, like so many other interesting people, to Taos.
"I was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We were very fortunate to live with my Russian-Jewish grandma who loved to cook delicious ethnic meals. My parents, the late Charles Friedman (deceased in 1969 at age 52) and the late Elaine Plotnick (she died seven years ago), honored the various family cultures, although English was our primary language. After my dad's death, Mom married Dad's first cousin," said Dr. Friedman.
Charles Friedman's death deeply affected his son. Charles's first heart attack occurred at age 42, when young Neal already weighed between 190 to 220 pounds. After his father's death, he thought, "That won't be me." By the time of his high school graduation, Friedman slimmed down to 138 pounds.
"I was lucky to get the message young enough to do something about it, including diet and exercise," explained Friedman. Many patients benefited from the medical doctor's personal experience throughout the years.
The family history includes a relative who served as a second lieutenant under George S. Patton as the chief of the educational system in Bavaria and South Germany during World War II. Some of the members of his maternal family (particularly his grandmother), originally from Austria, never wanted to return to their original home because of the horrific memories of the Nazis.
"One of my grandfathers was very prolific. His age at death varies on who you talk to -- from 103 to 109. He outlived three wives, fathered 15 children and my dad had over 100 first cousins," the doctor added.
Friedman was the eldest of four children, including his brother Stuart (Ellen) Friedman; step-sister Phyllis Plotnick; and step-brother Harris Plotnick.
This coming August, Friedman and wife, Diane, will celebrate 47 years of marriage.
Studies at Penn State University marked the beginning of his work in the medical field. Friedman's career took him across the country, but his children were born in New Mexico. Their oldest daughter Jessica (Michael) Skerritt was born into the world at Gallup Indian Medical Center. She now resides in Arlington, Virginia, where she and her husband work as attorneys and raise Elana, 6, and two-year-old Kirby. His daughter Ilana (Glenn) Olif was born at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque. In Denver, the youngest of Friedman's daughters works as a licensed English and Spanish speech pathologist.
Dr. Friedman worked for the Indian Health Services at Zuni from 1976 to 1978 while Diane taught school. He helped the prevention of diabetes by pursuing a career in endocrinology. Endocrinologists work on various illnesses such as glands, metabolism, hormones, digestion, respiration and diabetes. He obtained a fellowship at the University of New Mexico's School of Medicine. According to the doctor, his preferred work remains in the area of diabetes.
"I wanted to establish a diabetes center at Lovelace Medical Center. I also became the head of [its] Endocrinology Department and [served as its] medical director of Disease Management," said the doctor of his work in Albuquerque.
From 2000 to 2002, Friedman worked for Kaleida Health in Buffalo, New York, as vice president and medical director for quality improvement. He received an appointment at the University Medical Center and taught medical economics and care management for 18 months. For a year, the doctor owned a consulting business, serving the medical world in places such as Singapore and Australia.
"At the end of 2002, I saw a posting for a physician and an executive position for Wellspan Health in York, Pennsylvania. The company was a five-hospital system with 750 employed physicians. I received the position in which I administered employer-sponsored health plans and served as a medical director in the areas of disease management, asthma, diabetes and heart disease with endocrinology on the side," he said.
The couple always intended to return to New Mexico, where they had previously discovered Taos Ski Valley, fell in love with the area and visited often.
Eventually, they purchased 2.5 acres and a house with great views. In 2013, both Friedmans moved to Taos permanently, following his retirement. He described this phase of his life as "A little work, not full-time, and a reversal of the work-to-play ratio."
The "little work" includes a 1.5-day stint each week at Taos Medical Group. Along with Dr. Jemery Kaufman, he serves as the co-director for the Diabetes Program at Holy Cross Hospital's Wellness Center. He has participated in many diabetes studies in the past.
The "play" includes mountain biking, using a Taos Ski Valley season pass with his wife, cross-country skiing and, since 1984, an annual trip to ski hut-to-hut with friends. That adventure, under the auspices of a foundation, includes 30 huts, some of them used by the 10th Mountain Division of the Army many years ago. The organization brought Ernie Blake from Switzerland to train the soldiers. Each participant carries a 50-pound backpack with provisions.
He participates in a neighborhood breakfast at various restaurants every Thursday at 8:30 a.m. "It's intellectually stimulating. During a two-hour period, we cure the world of all ills," laughed Friedman.
The extensive traveler visited Mount Kilimanjaro in Nairobi and participated in the 100-mile hike in the Tour du Mont Blanc. Other travels locales include Morocco, Iceland, South Africa, Israel, Egypt, Thailand, Japan and most of the European countries, where he enjoyed the foods and bargaining at the bazaars.
The Friedmans love making Eastern and Middle Eastern cooking at home and enjoy Italian, Greek and Israeli meals. He serves as the president of the Taos Jewish Center and loves jazz and photography.
"I've been fortunate to lead an interesting life. The factor that makes it so fascinating are multigenerational - travel, language, foods and, especially, the people," he concluded.