Al Beasley. Neil Lebhar. Jack Shiller.
Those are legendary names. Nearly every baby boomer growing up in postwar Westport went to one of those 3 pediatricians. They helped thousands of kids grow up, and calmed thousands of mothers’ nerves.
Peter Czuczka is a direct descendant of those doctors. He worked with 2 of them, then grew his own practice into Westport’s largest pediatrics group.
When he retires at the end of this year, he’ll join the ranks of beloved hometown doctors.
As a kid in Mount Vernon, New York, he loved science, people, and working with his hands. When he was just 8 years old, he knew he wanted to be a pediatrician.
His path to Westport took him from Brandeis University to Albert Einstein College of Medicine. When it was time to apply for jobs, he searched the Yellow Pages for pediatrics practices everywhere.
He knew Westport as a “clean and green town.” So he was thrilled that Dr. Beasley — and his pediatrician wife Jean — had an opening.
He joined them in 1973. Several months later, Dr. Jean Beasley died.
Shiller and Al Beasley — with Czuczka — soon joined forces. “They were titans,” Czuczka says.
They worked together at “The Willows” — the medical complex at the corner of Kings Highway North and Wilton Road known as Fort Apache. Seventeen years ago they moved to the former site of Chubby Lane’s, across from Athletic Shoe Factory.
Czuczka has been part of the community his entire working life. He and his wife Alice — a middle school teacher — bought their first house for $53,000. “We thought we were in over our heads,” he recalls.
They raised their own kids here, and sent them to the “great” Westport public schools.
His 45 years as a pediatrician have flown by. He watched babies grow into children, then teenagers. They went off to college, and got married. Some moved back. Now their children are his patients too.
He’s proud of that — and of the many patients who have gone on to become doctors, nurses and other medical personnel.
Czuczka enjoys mentoring younger pediatricians and physician assistants. Yale and the University of Vermont send them to train with the Willows group. He appreciates teaching them all he knows, from how to talk to a child on his or her level, to thrill of diagnosis.
The pediatrician loves his partners. Drs. Laura Marks, Jeff Owens, Rachel Sheiman, Jonathan Sollinger and Janet Woodward — plus the newest addition, Lauren Allison — make each day joyful.
“He’s an incredible teacher, mentor, friend and pediatrician,” Sollinger says. “He’s the kind of guy you want as a teammate and captain. Plus, he’s got a hilarious sense of humor.”
Besides his colleagues, Czuczka will miss interacting with parents, holding babies, and dealing with adolescents. Making teenagers feel comfortable has become one of his most favorite parts of his profession.
“Society today is so stressful,” he says. “Pediatricians play a much more active role in managing that than we used to.”
That’s one change. Another is technology. When Czuczka began, there was no MRI, CAT scan or ultrasound. Now he performs blood tests in his office, and uses a computer constantly.
The business of medicine has also changed. “I used to spend so much time with a family,” he notes. “Now managed care mandates all our administrative burdens.”
Czuczka seems amazed that he’s 73 years old, and has been practicing for almost 45 years. “A train stops!” he says, about his decision to retire now.
Over the past few months, he’s cut back his work and eased into his new life. He’s had time to read for pleasure, and garden. He bought a small fishing boat, and named it after his wife: “Sea Alice.” (Say it out loud — get it?)
They’re staying in Westport. But now he’ll have time to visit his grandchildren. They’re nearby in Westport, and further away in Massachusetts and Maryland.
Still, it won’t be easy to leave a job he loves. “Not a day goes by without joy,” Czuczka says. “The best thing is the children. I think I’m a kid at heart.”
In a “Dear Willows Families” letter announcing his retirement last April, Czuczka wrote that from the happiest moments of welcoming a new baby, to the “ultimate heartache of grieving a loss together– and through each earache, stomach bug and strep throat in between” — it was a privilege to serve as their pediatrician.
Noting that he was confident in his decision to “hang up my stethoscope,” because of the strong Willows team, he finished with thanks “for entrusting the care of your children to me, and teaching me to be a better doctor and person.”
Peter Czuczka’s friend, former colleague — and neighbor — Al Beasley knows the feeling.
And somewhere, Neil Lebhar and Jack Shiller are smiling.
(Click here to read families’ letters of thanks to Dr. Czuczka.)