Those he saw in his office each day provided Dr. Norman L. Sadowsky with an education that went beyond what he had learned in his medical training. So, too, did the politics of the time he practiced.
“The women’s movement has had a great impact on my life,” he wrote in 1978. “To begin with, much of my professional work is with women, and I have learned much from my female patients about what they expect of their physicians.”
An innovative and pioneering radiologist, he specialized in the early detection of breast cancer, and he turned his practice into a model of how to focus on the care and needs of women.
An annual award at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital bears the name of Dr. Sadowsky, who was 88 when he died June 29 of complications from cancer.
The Sadowsky award honors physicians who, like him, made extraordinary contributions to science, and who also embody “the highest levels of caring, compassion, creativity, and service excellence” he brought to the practice of medicine.
Dr. Sadowsky, who had lived in Brookline and Jamaica Plain before moving to Brighton near the end, was a legendary physician, even among legendary physicians. When Dr. Sadowsky retired several years ago, Dr. Susan Love — one of the nation’s best-known women’s health specialists — sent a letter praising her mentor.
Upon beginning to practice medicine, “it soon became clear that there was a great need for people who were focused on taking good care of women,” she wrote. “I thought I was the only one until I became aware of a kindred spirit across town, Norm Sadowsky. He paid attention to women, their complaints and problems and took them seriously.”
Dr. Sadowsky, she added, “did not stay in the dark reading X-rays, but chatted with the women, examined them and put all his energy into diagnosing their problems. They knew that at that moment they were the most important person in the room.”
And that was true for his patients’ families as well. Mike Lynch, principal sports anchor of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), wrote of answering the phone in 2002 in New Orleans while covering the lead-up to the Super Bowl. His wife, Mary Ellen, told him she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she put Dr. Sadowsky on the line.
“I asked if I should get on a plane and come home right away. ‘No,’ he replied in his comforting, fatherly manner, ‘stay for the game, but try to get home as soon as the game is over. We want to have surgery early next week. She will be fine. She’s a strong woman, and we’ll take good care of her,’ ” Lynch would later write in a public thank you to Dr. Sadowsky.
“If those words came out of the mouth of anyone else on the planet, they would be just words,” Lynch continued. “From Norman’s lips, they were the elixir that eased both of us, and filled us with comfort and confidence.”
At what formerly was simply Faulkner Hospital, Dr. Sadowsky had been the youngest chief radiologist, appointed to head the department at 33. He also “was one of the pioneering doctors to perform mammography,” according to a hospital history.
The founding director in 1971 of what is now the hospital’s Sagoff Breast Imaging and Diagnostic Center, he pioneered the practice of providing women with same-day mammography results in order to eliminate the anxiety of patients waiting, sometimes for days, to learn if the news was good or bad.
In addition, Dr. Sadowsky was a force behind establishing a mobile unit that traveled to neighborhoods with underserved patient populations, where women who lacked the means to get to hospitals and doctors could be screened and tested.
The founding director of what is now the Sagoff Breast Imaging and Diagnostic Center, he pioneered the practice of providing same-day mammography results.
“He was also a good scientist,” Love wrote, “developing the Sadowsky breast marking system and sharing his knowledge in papers, lectures, and demonstrations. Most important he was a terrific mentor to many. I especially appreciated his support of women in medicine.”
The fifth of six siblings, Norman Leonard Sadowsky was born on April 16, 1931, in Worcester, where he grew up a son of Polish immigrants Abraham and Sarah Sadowsky.
He graduated from Worcester Academy and initially attended Brown University, drawn there by a pitching coach. When the coach left, Dr. Sadowsky did, too, switching to Harvard College, where he pitched on the baseball team and graduated in 1953.
That same year he married Ethel Shulinski, whom he knew from Worcester, where their childhood homes were on the same street. She was still finishing her studies at Radcliffe College, and they began their marriage as students while he attended to the Tufts University School of Medicine.
She went on to get a doctorate in education from Harvard, and was an English teacher and housemaster at Brookline High School, and later principal of Brookline’s Heath elementary school.
“Dad was a feminist to his core. And before it became fashionable,” their daughter Jane of New York City said Tuesday in a eulogy at Dr. Sadowsky’s service.
“While mom’s achievements are monumental,” Jane added, “they are also a reflection of dad’s understanding that her happiness required her to challenge herself outside the home.”
In the 25th anniversary report of his Harvard class, Dr. Sadowsky wrote about the “sharing and mutual support which has nurtured our marriage for all these years. I have no doubt that beginning married life as an equal partnership is one of the factors which has enabled our relationship to grow.”
“A lot of people have said our dad was an early adapter to feminism as a man. He really cared very deeply about women,” their daughter Amy of Newton said in an interview.
When Dr. Sadowsky dined out, patients past and present “would come over to the table to thank him and hug him,” his son, Marc of Nashua, said in a eulogy at the service.
In addition to his wife, son, and two daughters, Dr. Sadowsky leaves another daughter, Eve of Newton; two brothers, Harold of Naples, Fla., and Lester of Palm Beach, Fla.; and three grandchildren.
Owing in part to his youth as a pitcher, Dr. Sadowsky was an attentive fan at Fenway Park or watching televised games. And though he loved theater and classical music, at times he was somewhat less gripped by the action at Symphony Hall, where he said the concerts “afforded him ‘a good $60 nap,’ ” Jane recalled.
Walt Disney’s “Pinocchio” movie, released just before he turned 9, was a lifelong favorite, however. He would sing along with “When You Wish Upon a Star” while dancing to the song with Jane at formal events, and at his service, everyone sang the first verse to “I’ve Got No Strings.”
As Dr. Sadowsky met with patients in his office, the sensitivity and the care he took explaining every detail made “all the difference in the world. When you know you have someone like him on your side, and they’re with you every step of the way, it really takes a lot of anxiety and stress out of the picture,” said Rosemarie E. Sansone, president and CEO of the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District Corp.
“When I see a person come in here, I think of her as a relative and care for her in that manner,” Dr. Sadowsky said for his hospital’s history.
Sansone said that at his memorial service, a woman asked “how I knew him, and I answered, ‘He was my doctor.’ I couldn’t have been more proud to say those words. He was an extraordinary man.”Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.