What follows is a tribute to an icon of the medical imaging industry. Jamie Reiss, founder and CEO of Biodex, passed away from complications of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma on February 13, 2021. He was 74 years old.
My friend Sarah sent me a link today about Peter Luger’s Steakhouse – they are having a bit of fun with (pandemic) seating and have partnered with Madame Tussaud’s wax museum to populate those otherwise empty chairs. We could be sitting next to Audrey Hepburn!! As soon as I read the headline you were the first person I wanted to tell. You brought me to Peter Luger’s more than 20 years ago and showed me what real steakhouse bacon and tomatoes were all about. Holy cow. I also remember you telling me that after your semi-annual doctor’s visit for high cholesterol, prescription in hand, you would treat yourself to a steak there on the way home – your way of laughing in the face of weakness. You were a mountain, invincible and permanent. And now you are gone.
Ten times a day I reach for the phone. We were each other’s first line for everything funny, interesting or absurd. It’s impossible to believe I’ll never hear your voice again, “Hey, Corwin…”, deep and gravelly if I called too early on a Sunday morning. You asked me to remind you, to make sure you were up and watching our favorite show so we could talk about it on Monday.
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Fighting with you was far more fun than agreeing with anyone else. The friction and banter we developed is a language we both understood as New Yorkers; a mental bout of fencing to advance, parry and lunge. It never got old. How is that possible? We could ignite each other with some random nonsense and argue, tongue in cheek and sword in hand for days, all for our own amusement.
Your rabbi gave you a beautiful service, though on one point I take issue. He reflected that no matter the occasion, the same Jamie showed up. I think of you more as an octagon – revealing a select side of yourself for each scenario. Very few got to see more than one or two sides, and yet, you made everyone feel special. That was your magic charm.
Your commitment to the employees of Biodex was inspiring – fierce and genuine. You began every human engagement, however fleeting, believing in the best of people and cared for your employees in ways no one would expect. Over the years I witnessed how you personally covered expenses for the sick, put families up in hotels while an employee received cancer treatment, and gave infinite second chances when others would surely turn away. For me, you restored hope when it was lost. When every doctor had given up on me, you found a new specialist, made the appointment, and dragged me to New York City to start the process over, from the beginning. You very well saved my life.
I wish you had sold the company five years sooner when you were courting the first serious buyers. You deserved the peaceful retirement you envisioned – watching sunsets from the porch and smoking cigars, fiddling with your boat and teaching the grandchildren about gardening. And cooking – oh, the recipes you collected; there was so much more to eat! You delighted in feeding your friends and family. Once, when a group of us were at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami, you actually had shell bits stuck in your curls from eating with such gusto – laughing a big buttery smile.
True to your nature and approach to life, you took the responsibility of the 200 plus families relying on your employment to heart. That loyalty was returned in kind. When people spoke about their jobs, they worked for Jamie first, then Biodex. When the pandemic initially hit and sales dropped off, you steadied the course personally until finally there was no choice but to reduce payroll, cutting the work week from five days to four. I watched as the burden of that decision weighed heavy. In turn, the employee response was to suggest they be cut further in pay with the offer to continue working a full week. They wanted to share the burden with you. Fortunately, there are labor laws that prevented this act of devotion, though there is no denying the sentiment. Your employees loved you and love you still.
Jamie, you made us all proud to work for Biodex. You helped connect the employee to the mission of the company – to improve the lives of patients. Making a profit was almost an afterthought for you, a necessity to manufacture and distribute our solutions. When you were sparked by a concept, your sights were set on the patient, to understand how we could make a difference.
The best example is the Gait Trainer with Music. When we tested the combination of music therapy with the repetition of the treadmill, the benefit was immediate -- patient response was profound. You and I had so much fun refining the story, marketing the combination of music and tempo with real outcomes. We built custom playlists, paying homage to your Motown, to Patty’s Gospel, and somebody wanted polka music and so we added that, too. You gave away countless Gait Trainers throughout Europe to get the research underway, helped Nico establish his network of intellectuals and sponsored a few physical therapists to become certified in music therapy. You even offered to send a complete system with music to the physical therapist who was treating our Director of Sales’ father embattled with Parkinson’s. Who does that? You.
More than vision and leadership, you were kind and generous. And endlessly mirthful. You made every day fun. There was the time you came back from a colonoscopy with an enlarged radiographic image of what you affectionately termed your grommet. It was one of those closeups where you don’t quite know what you’re seeing; it was downright artistic. You marveled at how it looked like a blossom, showing it around the office. “Isn’t it pretty?” you asked. Then you had our graphics department stop all work to turn that image into a mock logo for your friend Ira’s law firm – in support of the long running joke between you, that all lawyers are a-holes. The prank was funny in itself; it was the glee with which you got everyone involved that turned it into a Jamie event.
Goodbye my dear friend. This is my tribute to the many wonders that made you so unique. Your devotion to family, friends, employees, customers, patients and strangers is your legacy. You lived a life full of joy and with conviction – serving God with your quiet mitzvah’s to make the world in your wake a better place.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lila Corwin, formerly Senior Vice President of Marketing Communications and Physical Medicine Sales for Biodex Medical Systems, Inc.
Having started with Biodex as a graphic designer in 1984 and then attending college at night for a marketing degree, it was a full decade before my position in the company put me in Jamie’s orbit professionally. Once there we spent more time listening to each other’s logic and sharing our approaches to life and people. We discovered a kinship that began a lifelong friendship beyond the walls of Biodex. From the early days Jamie would tease that at my core I was really an old Jewish man.
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