Remembering Wolffe Jay Nadoolman, a beloved pediatrician

Dr. Wolffe Nadoolman

Wolffe Jay Nadoolman M.B.A., M.D. (1957-2017)

Dr. Wolffe Jay Nadoolman, a beloved pediatrician in Berkeley, died peacefully in his sleep on Friday, April 28. He was 60 years old.

Wolffe grew up in Washington Heights, NYC, son of Laura Kessler Nadoolman and Milton Nadoolman. He credited much of his success in life to the education he received as a preschooler at PS189 and PS129 in Manhattan. His summers were spent as a camper and then as a counselor at Camp Laughton, his parents’ camp for the deaf in Grahamsville, New York. He finished high school at Horace Mann School in Riverdale and attended Cornell University where he graduated with a triple major in astrophysics, math and art History. Wolffe continued his education at Harvard Business School, graduating in 1981. He worked for a number of investment banking firms, settling on Salomon Brothers where he was promoted to vice president in charge of options and mortgage securities trading. His departure from the firm was rendered in dramatic detail in Michael Lewis’ memoir of Wall Street, Liar’s Poker. Wolffe joked that “names were changed to protect the innocent.”

Starting a completely new career and path for life, Wolffe went on to fulfill a lifelong dream to become a pediatrician and to care for children. He received his MD from the Yale School of Medicine in 1996 and after completing his training in Salt Lake City, Utah, opened his successful practice Private Pediatrics in Berkeley. Despite this magnificent education, on his office wall hangs only one diploma from PS 189, where it all started.

Dr. Wolffe (as he was called by his patients and their parents) was a practicing pediatrician for nearly two decades. His practice was hands-on, personal, and very up close. He scheduled appointments generously giving patients and families all the time that they needed. He was only a phone call away 24/7 and he regularly made house calls long before it became commonplace in medical practice again. He had a gift for communicating with kids even before they could talk and after they wouldn’t. He was happy to inhabit their space; to speak their language, to hear what they had to say. His genius was in discovering the safe place where he and his patients could talk. They could feel his interest, his intelligence, his wisdom, and his playful style of caring. One patient described him as having the intelligence and knowledge of Dr. House in the loving and eccentric persona of Mr. Rogers. He was an extraordinary physician who eagerly gave his time, his skill and his heart to all the children and families in his practice.

Wolffe was a man of many talents. His remarkable math skills were instrumental in developing the financial instruments that would eventually be known as derivatives. In medical school, he developed a caramel candy with capsaicin (the heating element in chili peppers) to treat burning mouth syndrome, an annoying and debilitating side effect of chemotherapy. After publishing a paper that showed its effectiveness he obtained a patent but then published the patented recipe so that all patients could make it for themselves. He helped start a business, RapidTrials, that helps research sites and biopharmaceutical companies efficiently implement clinical trials.

Wolffe was a collector with an eye for beauty and value. While working on Wall Street he put together a large and remarkable movie poster collection. Selling that collection at auction funded a large part of his medical school education. Collecting was a lifelong passion. From vintage posters, rare photographic masterpieces and museum quality 18th and 19th century American and English samplers, his collections survive as a testimony to Wolffe’s intelligence and taste.

Wolffe also had a genius for taking in information and seeing contradictions or logical flaws that were unnoticed by others. This was a gift on Wall Street where he used it in developing new financial instruments for mortgages and other investments. In medicine, Wolffe frequently asked the tough questions of accepted dogma and science. He had several letters published in the New England Journal of Medicine on a variety of topics and the unifying characteristic was his recognition of an underlying logical flaw or contradiction, which had never been recognized or acknowledged. As a pediatrician, he exercised this talent in two blogs that he wrote for many years: The Ethical Pediatrician where he took on the important issues of the day and The Empathic Pediatrician where he expressed his thoughts on caring for children.

Wolffe is survived by his sister, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, her husband John, their two children Max Landis and Rachel Landis Rosen and her husband Jared Rosen. A memorial service celebrating his life will be held on May 28 in Paramus, New Jersey and on June 4 in Berkeley. Please give generously to the Dr. Wolffe Nadoolman Scholarship Fund at the Mentoring Academy, 5951-B College Avenue, Oakland, CA94618, (510)-400-7696.