It’s not every day one meets a neurologist who holds a Guinness World Record for being the oldest practicing doctor. But then Dr. Howard Tucker is no ordinary man.

Tucker, who turned 100 years old on July 10, teaches medical residents at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland. In his spare time, he takes on medical-legal expert witness work. With four children and 10 grandchildren, he’s also a family man with a sense of humor.

“I have to keep doing things because I can’t stand being at home,” Tucker said with a chuckle. “As long as people accept me, I’m going to continue to practice. I enjoy myself.”

Born in 1922, Tucker knew he wanted to pursue a career in the medical industry while a student at Cleveland Heights High School.

“In those days, neurology was a truly intellectual pursuit,” said Tucker, who lives in Cleveland Heights and is a member of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike. “There’s something mysterious about the brain. There’s a mystique. That’s why I went into neurology.”

After graduating from high school in 1940, Tucker attended The Ohio State University in Columbus for his undergraduate degree and then medical school. Once his training was completed in 1947, Tucker served as chief neurologist for the Atlantic fleet at a U.S. Naval Hospital in Philadelphia during the Korean War.

“Anyone who was discharged from the Navy for neurological reasons, if his residence was east of the Mississippi, I had to examine him before he could be discharged,” Tucker recalled.

After the war, Tucker trained at the Neurological Institute of New York. He remembers his “remarkable training” at the institute, which featured 14 floors of all things related to neurology and psychiatry.

He credits his former chief at Cleveland Clinic for encouraging him to apply to be part of the institute.

“My chief at the Cleveland Clinic had said to me, ‘You’re capable of learning more than I can teach you, so I want you to apply to the Neurological Institute of New York. It made all the difference in the world. It was a great experience,” Tucker said.

Not only did the institute play a pivotal role in Tucker’s medical career, but it also served as the place where he met his wife, Sara, who is a practicing psychiatrist.

“At the time, I was teaching third-year medical students,” Tucker recalled. “One day I said to myself, ‘That’s a cute-looking girl.’ Six months later, I saw her on the street and we started talking, and that’s how I got married. I’m very lucky.”

Tucker has witnessed many advances over the course of his career, both in medicine and in technology. The CAT scan, for instance, hadn’t yet been invented when Tucker began practicing neurology.

“We used to have to really think through a problem because there weren’t any diagnostic tools of that magnitude,” Tucker said. “We used to agonize over a problem. Is this a pattern of a tumor? Is this a pattern of abnormality with a stroke? In those days we had to work harder, but it was fun.”

Not one to stay idle for too long, Tucker decided to attend Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University after serving as an expert witness in a case. He found the legal system exciting and said he was determined to stay in law school and finish his degree – all while continuing to practice medicine. He graduated and passed the Ohio Bar Examination at 67 years old.

What’s Tucker’s secret to living such a long, healthy life?

Genetics is a good start, he said. His mother died at age 84, while his father was almost 96 years old when he passed away. A good dose of levity toward life can also do wonders.

“My father bought a new car at 93 years old. And as he drove out of the parking lot with the new car, he said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to like this Chevy – I think I’m going to go back to Buicks next,’” Tucker said. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s 93 and he’s buying a new car.’ I ended up buying my car when I was 94, and I said for my next car, I’m staying with a BMW.”

A documentary on Tucker’s life is being produced by his grandson, Austin Tucker, and director/producer Taylor Taglianetti. The two hope the film will show the power of investing in older generations, and they consider Tucker a “prime example of what just one person can do to change the world.”

A milestone birthday calls for a grand celebration, and true to form, Tucker’s plans didn’t disappoint. After celebrating with friends and family on July 9, Tucker headed downtown to the corner of Carnegie Avenue and Ontario on July 11 to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Cleveland Guardians game.

“I just hope I can get the ball to the plate,” Tucker said with a laugh. “I’ve been practicing.”

With such an interesting and complex life story, Tucker’s advice to others is surprisingly succinct: “Stay honest, work hard and keep learning.”

And throughout his life, Tucker has done just that.


Kristen Mott is a freelance journalist.

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