November 14, 1916 – September 23, 2020
MARGARET “MICKEY” GERBER, M.D., MEDICAL TRAILBLAZER
Margaret “Mickey” Gerber, M.D. died Wednesday, September 23, 2020, two months short of her 104th birthday. A retired ophthalmologist and surgeon, she was among the first women in that specialty in the United States. Mickey was a long-time resident of Evanston and Wilmette, Illinois. Born before the United States entered World War I and growing up during the Depression, she overcame many obstacles both professionally and societally and rose to meet the challenges, significantly impacting the lives of her patients, community and family.
At the age of 99, she self-published her memoir entitled, My First 100 Years. Much of her remarkable story below is excerpted from that memoir.
Born in 1916 in Morton, IL, she was the youngest of four children including a sister Kathryn and two brothers, Richard and Jay. Her father, John E. Gerber, had started a pottery business as one of his ventures, and engaged his children during the summer months to sell pottery from door to door. No driving licenses were required so by the age of 10, having learned to change a tire, Mickey, as she was affectionally known throughout her life, drove the family Model T and together with her siblings, marketed the pottery. Mickey described her parents as remarkable and loving and credited her mother, Anna with instilling in all her family the importance of education. Her mother always told her that what was “in her head she will never lose but what was in her pocket can be taken away at any time”.
She began her college studies at the University of Utah before moving with the family to Council Bluffs, Iowa where she was among the first class of women admitted to Creighton University.
In 1937, the family relocated to Evanston where her brother Jay enrolled at the Northwestern Business School and she continued her studies there in Chemistry and Mathematics graduating with honors in 1939. Eventually, her brother became the Vice President of Development at Northwestern University. Mickey and her sister established a chair in his honor at the Kellogg School of Business.
Throughout her life, Mickey was a pioneer for women’s opportunities. Northwestern School of Medicine began accepting women into the program in the late 1920s. At the encouragement of one of her professors, Mickey enrolled in 1940. At that time, the School accepted only four women per class since there was one anatomy table designated for them. Throughout her training, she had the resilience and intelligence to overcome the biases against career women. “Before enrolling in medical school, I was interviewed by the Professor of Anatomy who told me they knew how to choose male students but had no idea how to choose women. So, they just threw the applications up in the air and the first four to come down were accepted. At least I got the benefit of the drop!” She received a four-year full tuition grant from the Kellogg Foundation and graduated at the top of her class. She did her internship at Cook County Hospital followed by a residency in Ophthalmology.
Colleagues described her as an exceptional ophthalmologist and surgeon with a strong commitment to the needs of her patients and a willingness to select carefully work environments in which she practiced. When invited to further her residency at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, considered to be one of the most competitive Ophthalmology residency programs in the world, she took the time to interview other physicians there and found an “unhappy group of doctors.” She turned down the position and was told “no-one has ever refused a residency since the hospital was founded in 1832.”
She began her private practice in Evanston. When there was resistance to rent space to women doctors, Mickey joined other colleagues to build a new medical building at 2500 Ridge Avenue, which became known as the COS Building. A number of roadblocks during construction required them to go to the Illinois Supreme Court to bring the project to fruition.
During her long career, she was a member of the surgical staff of Evanston Hospital. She served also as the appointed ophthalmologist for Northwestern University Student Health Services and held the same position at The Mather. Her decision to retire at 66 was deliberate and thoughtful. She called it a move to the “next chapter of my life”. Her colleagues affectionately referred to her as a “rock star” with her dedication and contributions to the field of Ophthalmology continuing after her retirement.
She is survived by her nephews David (Jan), Bill (Marilyn), and Stephen Gerber; her niece, Julia Gerber (Jim) Woodward as well as Cynthia Stork Gerber, Susan (Dick) Pankopf, Georgianne Meno Gerber, and Rose M. Gerber. She is survived also by her great nieces and nephews, Kathryn Gerber (Michael) Kennedy, Robert (Katie Linehan) Gerber, Leslie Gerber (Randy) Crane, Richard Gerber, Michael (Oren McEwen) Gerber, Mary (Orlanda Wilson) Gerber, Jeffrey Gerber, Elizabeth Gerber (David) Bailey, John Bryant (Robyn Ufer) Gerber, Katherine Woodward, Jodi (Marty) O’Connell and Meredith (Mike) Gerber-Tomasek, as well as two more generations.
The family is curating tributes, stories and Mickey’s impact on people’s lives. Please clink on the link to participate: https://forms.gle/FMgpaWQ6fTViMKDe7 A celebration of her life will be held virtually. Anyone interested in participating is asked to email Mickey@zigmail.com.
In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory can be made to Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Greater Chicagoland Food Depository, or the Chicago Foundation for Women.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
October 19, 2020
I had the lucky fortune to meet Mickey when my friend Fran Savage was a resident. What a great friend she was to Fran. We all enjoyed the trips to Misericordia for lunches and special events. When Fran passed away, I continued my visits with Garrett’s popcorn, chocolates, and lunches with Mickey. We had so many laughs and fun visits. I will miss my visits, chats and the “pop in” visits with my dear friend Mickey. Rest In Peace my good friend. Love 💕 Mackey
October 7, 2020
One of my favorite memories of my great, great, Aunt Mickey was at her 100 birthday. We have many pictures of the two Margaret's at that party, it was the best party of my live, from the fun cardboard glasses, to the amazing snacks to all of the relatives it was awesome.