Retired Head of Columbia Neurosurgery Dr. Bennett Stein is Now ‘The Car Doctor’

Dr. Stein on the cover of AutoWeek Magazine. Photo by Daniel Byrne

Of all places, Dr.Bennett M. Stein, former Head of Columbia’s Neurosurgery Department, showed up in one of the April 2012 issues of AutoWeek Magazine.

Now in his 80s, he is featured in an article entitled, The Car Doctor: A Retired Neurosurgeon Turns His Attention to Cars. The piece is a fun account of the neurosurgeon’s work maintaining and restoring European sports-cars. More than that, though, it is a shining example of Dr. Stein’s overall philosophy on retirement.

Dr. Stein, who retired in 1997, was the Chairman of Columbia’s Neurosurgery Department before our current Chair, Dr. Robert Solomon.

Among his many accomplishments, Dr. Stein is responsible for the unique sub-specialization of the department, as well as having trained and hand picked many of the neurosurgeons working here today.

Dr. Bennett M. Stein

Dr. Bennett M. Stein before he retired.

“I remember Ben saying, ‘the most important thing I’ll ever do is to teach you how to retire,’” says Dr. Michael Sisti from the Gamma Knife and Brain Tumor centers. “At his 60th birthday party, Dr. Stein announced that he was going to retire at 65. That is when he really thought about Dr. Solomon to do aneurysms and me to do acoustic tumors and McCormick to do spinal cord tumors and Jeff Bruce to do pineal tumors–these were Ben’s main interests in neurosurgery. He made sure that what he learned and what he did for people wasn’t going to be lost just because he was retiring. When Dr. Stein retired, He was arguably the best neurosurgeon in the United States and his skill set was excellent. He walked away from it at the height of his abilities and this had an amazing impact and impression on me.”

Photo by Daniel Byrne

Dr. Stein in AutoWeek article. Photo by Daniel Byrne

In February of 2012 when Dr. Stein turned 80, Dr. Sisti and the other members of Columbia’s Department of Neurosurgery threw him a dinner. “It is just a wonderful bunch of people there from the secretaries, to the nurses, to my staff,” says Dr. Stein. “It is very touching and it’s nice to be remembered. On the other hand, I have learned that once you retire you don’t want to butt in–I learned that from my old mentor Larry Pool.”

Dr. J. Lawrence Pool was head of the department before Dr. Stein and is a legend in the field of neurosurgery. Dr. Stein says, “He was at the top of his game and he just said, ‘Ben, time for somebody else to take over.’ You have to prepare yourself for a different life. He did and I did.”

When Dr. Stein retired at the age of 66, he stepped easily into his new role. “It was hard to find the time to do everything I had to do,” he says. This included some neurosurgery writing, traveling, skiing, ice hockey (he still plays today at age 80) and, of course, exotic cars.

His interest in cars, which he says are often more complicated than the human brain (and more frustrating), actually began in 1958 when he bought his first exotic sports-car; a brand new MGA. “I was studying in England for a year on a Fulbright scholarship at the National Neurological Hospital. In my spare time I used to drive [the MGA] up to Scotland.”

Dr. Sisti has adopted Dr. Stein’s retirement model. “Though I am a ways from retirement, I am always thinking about it. There is a point when this has to be given to someone else the way it was given to me–I need to be prepared for that. I hope I can live up to what he was able to do.”

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