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Friday, September 29, 2023

Founder of UF College of Medicine remembered

Every time Dr. Richard P. Schmidt brought fresh strawberries to his synagogue, the fragrance filled the building. The smell of strawberries will be missed but never forgotten, Rabbi David Kaiman said.

Schmidt, one of the founding members of the UF College of Medicine, died Friday. He was 86.

Kaiman led a memorial service for Schmidt at the Congregation B'Nai Israel on Monday.

Eleanor Schmidt, his wife of 22 years, said her husband came to UF in 1958 because he wanted the challenge of working as chief at a new medical school. He stayed for more than a decade.

He then went to the State University of New York in Syracuse for a few years, and he returned to work at Gaineville's Veterans Administration Hospital in 1983.

He later worked in the department of neurology at UF's Malcolm Randall VA Medical Center.

She said Schmidt had two children from a previous marriage, three stepchildren and six grandchildren.

He loved to photograph wildflowers, write poetry and was a "wonderful golfer," she said.

He baked homemade bread for friends and grew hot peppers to make salsa - the hotter the better, she added.

In a room full of friends and family, Dr. Ricardo Gonzalez-Rothi, an old friend of Schmidt, spoke of Schmidt's zeal for life.

He read an excerpt from a letter Schmidt wrote to another friend: "I don't have anything I must do, but I don't have enough time to do everything I want to do."

Schmidt rarely allowed himself boredom, he said.

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Dr. Henry Lyons, a friend who owned a boat with Schmidt, said he had "an especially zany sense of humor."

"Dick was a special friend. He felt like one of your brothers, and I needed one because all I had was an older sister," Lyons said, drawing laughs from the crowd.

Dr. Samuel Greenberg, a 20-year friend of Schmidt, said Schmidt was a lifelong student with a twinkle in his eye.

Greenberg said Schmidt was never afraid of trying new things, and in his late age he decided that Judaism attracted him.

"He was a man who did things," Greenberg said. "He didn't pay lip service to things."

He said Schmidt's curiosity led him to great achievements.

"So many of our leaders are superficial," Greenberg said. "T.S. Eliot calls them 'hollow men.' Dick was a solid man."

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