Los Angeles Times

Slain urologist recalled as devoted, caring

Shortly after 9/11, Dr. Ron Gilbert penned a letter to his sons advising them to live honorable and meaningful lives.

"Try not to be bitter about the many unfortunate things that may happen to you in your life," he wrote. "Your response to difficult situations will in large part define you as a person."

Less than 12 years later, those words were read again — at Gilbert's funeral and on what would have been his 53rd birthday.

Gilbert, 52, was shot to death Jan. 28 in his urology office near Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. His wife, Elizabeth, discovered the letter as she combed through documents to fill out his death certificate.

Friends and family said the letter to his sons epitomized someone they described as thoughtful, measured, devoted to Judaism and well-rounded, the kind of man who could crack jokes and then quickly shift gears to a meaningful conversation.

"That guy was more than three dimensional, man, he was phenomenal," said Dr. Mark Rayman, a friend since childhood. "He was extremely intelligent, but he had charisma. … He had an ability to connect with everybody — young, old — and just make everybody feel special."

Stanwood Elkus is charged with lying in wait in Gilbert's medical office and then shooting him to death. Elkus, 75, is expected in court Aug. 23 for a preliminary hearing and faces a minimum sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.

Elkus, who has pleaded not guilty, told the Daily Pilot in a jailhouse interview that he believes Gilbert botched his surgery years ago, but those familiar with the case say the suspect mistook the victim for someone with a similar name.

"I'll admit, what I did was a terrible thing," Elkus told the Pilot at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange.

Elkus, however, did not clarify whether that "terrible thing" was shooting Gilbert.

The shooting claimed the life of a man described by his brother Glenn Gilbert as "a super mensch."

"I said, 'I think we should come up with a new term and put it in the Yiddish dictionary with his picture by it, and we should call it a `super mensch' or a `Ronald Gilbert mensch' or something and distinguish it from all the other mensches," Glenn Gilbert recalled, using the Yiddish word for a person of integrity and honor. "Because to lump him in the category with all the other mensches is not accurate."

While Gilbert's family was sitting shiva at their home in Huntington Harbour in the days after he was killed, mourners shared stories no one had previously heard.

One woman said authorities suspected her son had been sexually abused and threatened to take him away. She was so scared of losing her son, she almost left the country. But after Gilbert examined the boy, he wrote county officials, saying there was no indication the boy was abused, and the family stayed together.

"Now, I never knew about this," Glenn Gilbert said. "I think most people would go, 'Hey, guess what? I saved this family.' Or they'd let you know. He had so much to boast about. … After he died I heard so many stories right and left of how he helped people, and ... I never heard them when he was alive.

"You know, some people do good things to promote themselves and for their ego gratification, and that was not him. He did it because he was a great person."

Friends turned to Ron Gilbert for medical advice. When Eli Benzaken was repairing his rabbi's dryer and tore open a bloody gash on his arm, he went straight to Gilbert's office.

When doctors diagnosed Benzaken's wife, Carol Adams, with a large tumor, she turned to Gilbert, who made sure she had a skillful oncologist. After her discharge from a hospital room with a beautiful view, Gilbert sent her sunflowers and visited her daily for a week and a half.

"He was kind of the consummate physician," Adams said. "He didn't ever leave that role of being a physician or a healer. He always listened when we were talking about things. He'd say, 'Oh, this is good for you,' or, 'Oh, this isn't good for you,' in a very nice, loving way because he was a physician through and through."

As a young man Gilbert performed similar deeds. He trained partly at the Long Beach Veterans Affairs hospital.

Although several of his colleagues lived for moments away from the VA, Gilbert would stay during his free time, said Dr. Elliot Lander.

"Ron, without telling anyone ever, used to go there on the weekends to play piano for the men," Lander said. "That's the kind of person he was."

Gilbert's oldest brother, Wayne, a Bay Area attorney, checks his calendar every morning for this reminder: "More like Rone," referring to his nickname for his brother.

"He was really one of the most amazing people I've ever met," Wayne Gilbert said. "He made everyone feel like they were important to him, and I think they were. I have a tendency to get focused on the stuff I'm doing and sometimes shut people out, and I'm really trying to take time to just talk more to people, check in with how their doing."

While Gilbert was raised in a traditional Jewish home, he became Orthodox after the birth of his first son, whom he wanted to raise him with a strong moral compass.

And although devoted to his profession, he was also devoted to his religion. He refused to ever work on Shabbat, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and never attended a conference or signed a piece of paper if it conflicted with the Sabbath, friend and business partner Jeff Abraham said.

More than 1,000 people attended Gilbert's funeral, many from the Jewish community.

Elizabeth Gilbert marvels at how her "selfless" husband found time each day to go to temple, attend to patients, cook the occasional dinner, wash dishes, spend time with his family and spend evenings locked in research or finishing patient files.

"As busy as he was, he still made time to be with us," she said. "When he got home, after a long, hard day at work, he would shut the outside world out and all his problems off and invest fully into his relationship with the children as a dedicated father and to me as my husband and friend. He gave us his undivided attention, making us feel like we were the most important and only thing in his mind."

Rather than push his two sons into activities, Gilbert encouraged them to do what they enjoyed.

When his oldest son, Stephan, 20, got into sports, Gilbert played golf with him and took him to games. After his youngest son, Jakey, 16, showed an interest in music, the living room was transformed into something of a studio that routinely hosted jam sessions.

Since his father's death, Jakey has only once picked up his guitar.

In his spare time, Gilbert developed a spray to treat premature ejaculation. Initially the product, Promescent, didn't sell well.

Abraham would joke that Gilbert was a wonderful friend, father, husband and physician, but not a skilled businessman. "Four out of five isn't bad," Abraham would say. "If he was a baseball player, and he batted .800, he'd win the batting title."

"He was never in sales mode," said Gregory Kaminski, the vice president of marketing for Absorption Pharmaceuticals, the company formed to sell Gilbert's product. "He was always in accuracy and information and maybe protective mode."

He would, however, seek business counsel and the product would become widely used.

Before Gilbert partnered with Abraham, who became chief executive of Absorption Pharmaceuticals, there was an offer on the table to sell the company for $1 million.

The day before Gilbert was killed in his medical office, he and Abraham celebrated a $30-million offer.

"I will never understand how cruel that is," Abraham said. "To have that moment followed 12 hours later, 14 hours later, by something like that. In a million years you couldn't script that."

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times