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Jack Mitus; trained generations of doctors

Dr. W. Jack Mitus survived the Nazi invasion of Poland, jumped out of airplanes to fight the Axis powers, and taught generations of Tufts University medical students how to be good doctors. His family liked to call him "Super Jack."

"My dad accepted this moniker as a tribute of the deep admiration and adoration by his family," said his daughter A. Jacqueline Mitus of West Roxbury, who followed in her father's footsteps and went into medicine.

Born Wladyslaw Jack Mitus in Zywiec, Poland, in 1920, Dr. Mitus died at his home in Brookline on Sept. 20 after a brief illness. It was his 55th wedding anniversary, and he died with his wife, Anna, by his side. He was 87.

Dr. Mitus's path to medicine began just as the world was falling apart. He left his mother, who was a teacher, and his father, who was a high school headmaster, behind in southern Poland to begin training as a medical cadet in Warsaw in 1938. He never saw his family again.

In a self-published autobiography, Dr. Mitus wrote about the shift from boyhood worrying over chemistry exams and vacation schedules to watching Nazi planes swarm overhead.

"It was through the dreamy fog of half-sleep that I heard the door open and the duty cadet saying, as though it was none of his concern: 'The war has started.' My mind, having many other things milling through its awakening connections, decided to reject this information. 'He must be kidding!' I assured myself," Dr. Mitus wrote.

Dr. Mitus escaped occupied Poland and internment in Hungary. He made his way through France and into England, where he served as a paratrooper, according to his family.

By 1946, he earned his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He began internships in England, where he met his wife, who also was studying medicine. The couple married in 1952 and had two daughters.

As newlyweds, they immigrated to the United States in 1953. Dr. Mitus worked as a fellow and senior resident in pathology at Cleveland City Hospital until 1955, when he became a research fellow in hematology at New England Medical Center in Boston.

A long career followed at Tufts University, where Dr. Mitus oversaw teaching of hematology and carved a reputation as a gifted storyteller with a wry sense of humor.

"He was a natural teacher," said his daughter Suzanne Mitus-Uribe, of Brookline and Los Angeles. "When we were children, he would teach us things without us even knowing he was doing it. He used to say, 'The details don't matter. Concepts matter.' "

His other daughter said her father touched generations of physicians.

"Tufts graduates often recounted to me fond memories of his attending each lecture, graciously amending comments of colleagues who may not have been clear, or rewarding students with candy thrown into the audience for a correct answer," Jacqueline Mitus said in an e-mail. "It is difficult for me to enter a hospital in the Boston area without being asked if I am Jack Mitus's daughter."

Students were enthralled with Dr. Jack. In 1981, the Tufts student body began selecting a gifted teacher for a new prize. They chose him for the first award and picked him again in 1982. He also received a university faculty award each year from 1973 to 1988. He gave a commencement speech to the Class of 1975.

While he was teaching, Dr. Mitus also worked at New England Medical Center and later at what was then Carney Hospital in Dorchester, where he was chief of hematology from 1969 to the mid-1980s.

During his career, Dr. Mitus wrote 37 academic papers published in journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine and Nature.

He remained a professor emeritus at Tufts and spent his later years enjoying the sport he loved most - tennis.

"My dad sometimes joked that hematology was his hobby, and tennis was his profession," Jacqueline Mitus said.

At his winter home in Naples, Fla., Dr. Mitus was captain of the "over 80" travel tennis team. His daughter Suzanne said she accused him of cheating because he began playing two months shy of his 80th birthday.

He made three trips back to Poland during Communist rule, and his family sometimes feared he would not be allowed to return. He had to make all of his phone calls to them from a special agency.

In warmer months, Dr. Mitus was a familiar figure at Larz Anderson Park in Brookline, where he regularly walked his beloved West Highland terrier, Petunia. He and his wife lived in the same home near the park for 45 years.

In addition to his wife and two daughters, Dr. Mitus leaves one granddaughter and one grandson.

His family is establishing a special prize at Tufts in his name for excellence in teaching. Burial was private.

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