Nicknames captured his intensity and goodwill. For a fellow doctor, he was “the last angry man”; for a long-time patient, he was “the guardian angel of avenue D”; and to cartoonist Stan Mack, who has represented Dr. Kramer several times in Real Life Funnies, his weekly comic book column for The Village Voice, he was “Dr. Quixote.”
Joseph Isaac Kramer was born December 7, 1924. His parents, Selig and Frieda (Reiner) Kramer, ran Kramer’s Bake Shop in Williamsburg. Joe intervened as a cashier – resentfully. Sent out for occasional runs, he took breaks to do what he really wanted: play stickball.
He graduated from Boys High School in Brooklyn, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1949 from the University of Kentucky, then moved to Europe to find an affordable medical school that would accept Jews. He graduated from the University of Mainz, Germany, around 1960. In 1963, he married Joan Glassman shortly after being introduced by friends.
Dr Kramer’s practice on the Lower East Side was short of a nurse, which left him spending hours every day and every weekend filling out forms. In one case, he asked Medicaid for $ 19 after spending 10 hours helping a young suicidal patient and only got $ 11. Continually enraged by what he saw as the greed and inaccessibility of the American medical system, he developed severe hypertension.
He left the practice in 1996, causing a final wave of media attention. “It wasn’t the rise of AIDS, the spread of tuberculosis, the resurgence of measles,” The Associated Press wrote explaining his departure. “It wasn’t his 71 years old, and it wasn’t the money. It was the paperwork. “
Besides his daughter, he is survived by his wife; one son, Adam; and two grandchildren.
Each August, Dr. Kramer attended a Lower East Side alumni reunion at East River Park. In a telephone interview, Tamara Smith, one of her patients as a little girl, recalled hundreds of people swarming around Dr Kramer as he entered the park for one of these gatherings – confirmation of his legacy as a “country doctor” who had treated generations of families.
“He couldn’t even get off the ramp to enter the park,” Ms. Smith said. “He was the doctor for all the children in the neighborhood. I don’t know how he did it, but he saw each of us.