Retired Salem physician turns 97, reflects on career

Photo by Shawn Nowlin
Dr. Cruzer celebrated his 97th birthday at Richfield Center with friends and loved ones.

Dr. Cruzer, a former Salem physician, celebrated his 97th birthday last month in the Alleghany Room at Richfield Retirement Community.

When asked to describe Mr. Cruzer to someone who has never met him, Tina Nolan, Richfield’s Director of Independent Living, said, “he is one of the most authentic people that I know. He is always willing to make time to talk to people, and I’ve never seen him get upset.”

Born and raised in Norfolk, Virginia, Cruzer completed two years of undergraduate work at a division of William & Mary College before transferring to the University of Virginia to get his bachelor’s degree. From 1943 through 1946, he served in the Army Reserves. Graduating from medical school in 1950 ranks among Mr. Cruzer’s proudest life accomplishments.

“After graduation, I took two years for an internship and residency at Depaul Hospital in Norfolk before coming to Salem in 1952 to open a private practice,” Cruzer said. “My goal was to work in a small town, and at the time Salem had a population of about 6,000. Everything just felt right when I made the decision.”

When Mr. Cruzer speaks about his career as a general practitioner, his face lights up like a child on Christmas Eve.

“I enjoyed the family relationships that I cultivated. Most of the stuff that I dealt with involved things like colds, so I got to know many families over the years,” he said. “Occasionally, I did things like sow-up lacerations, but that didn’t happen very often.”

After doing general practice in Salem from 1952 to 1973, Dr. Cruzer went to work at the Salem VA for 26 years. He officially called it a career in 1999.

Longtime friend Maryland Morehead made a few remarks at Richfield before Dr. Cruzer blew out the candles on his birthday cake.

“There is no way to describe Dr. Cruzer in a few words. To me, he is about as special as it gets,” she said with a smile. “I remember when we first met, I knocked on his door to give him a lemon cake. About a week later, someone knocked on my door, and it was him. He had the cake container that I had taken over and said, ‘both my son and I agree that this is the best cake we’ve ever had in our lives.’”

How does a 97-year-old like to spend his time? For Dr. Cruzer, it’s all about appreciating the memories that have been made over the years and allocating time for family.

“My wife and I love all of our children. I have one son that lives near Atlanta, one that lives in Richmond and one that lives near Richmond. I also have a stepson that lives in Salem, and a stepdaughter in Tennessee. One of my sons tragically passed away at 40 due to a ruptured aneurysm,” he said. I also have eight grandchildren and nine great-great-grandchildren. I can’t put into words how special it is to spend time with them. Hopefully,  when they get older, they will also have a lifetime of memories to cherish.”

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