The Liss Family: A Three-Generation Temple Legacy
With three generations of graduates, Temple Medicine is more than a school to the Liss family—it has become an integral part of their identity.
The legacy began in 1955 when Gilbert Liss, MED ’61 returned from serving as an officer in the Navy and told his father that he didn’t intend to join the family business, the famed Liss Bakeries of Philadelphia. Despite having earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Temple and having spent years honing his talent as a master baker, Gilbert informed his father that he wanted to become a doctor. “My father just looked at me and said: Are you crazy?” Liss recalls.
Besides his father’s reluctant support, there was another problem: during his interview, then-Dean William Parkinson threw Gil’s application on the floor, saying that the medical school wanted scientists, not businessmen! “It didn’t make me quit,” Liss recalls. “It made me mad.” So Liss went back for a second undergraduate degree from Temple, and graduated with a 4.0. He was admitted to the School of Medicine in 1958, finishing 2nd in his class.
Those unlikely beginnings were the foundation for a highly respected career in obstetrics, which paved the way for a long family legacy at Temple Med. After an internship at Philadelphia General Hospital, Liss returned to Temple’s renowned residency in OB/GYN. By then he had four children—all boys—he and his wife Hermine moved the family to Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, just after their fifth child was born, a girl. There, Liss set up the area’s first OB/GYN practice.
Gil’s practice thrived in Phoenixville, where he delivered over 9,000 babies. “Not a day goes by when one of Dad’s former patients or deliveries doesn’t ask me about my father”, says Fred Liss.
Though the elder Liss never pressured his children to follow in his footsteps, both he and Hermine did impart their philosophy on living a productive life – namely, that whatever you do, value education and charity, focus on helping people, build relationships, and always be the best one can be (in this, the children note that their mother was as much an inspiration as their father). “There was always a notion that being a doctor was a way to do something good in the world,” says Jonathan Liss. “I got that during my training and I got that from my parents.”
Indeed, Jon was the first to follow, graduating from Temple School of Medicine in the class of 1980. After both residency and fellowship at St. Christopher’s Hospital, Jon established the first neonatology unit in York, Pennsylvania, which he currently chairs.
Then came Bob, who graduated in 1984, then pursued orthopedic training and a spine fellowship at Rush Memorial in Chicago. Bob is now an orthopedic spine surgeon in the Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh.
Fred graduated from Temple Medical School in 1985, then completed a residency in orthopaedic surgery at Temple University Hospital and a fellowship in hand surgery at the Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York. He founded and chairs the Physicians Care Surgical Hospital in Limerick, Pennsylvania and practices as a hand surgeon and faculty with The Rothman Institute.
Gilbert presided over the graduations of all three sons who went to Temple. “One of the most memorable moments in my life was having my father hand me my diploma,” Fred Liss says. Robert in turn did the same for his daughter Laura, who graduated from Temple in 2014 and is now an anesthesiology resident at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
Temple prepared all of the Liss graduates with what Bob refers to as a “strong clinical foundation and the confidence to practice.” All recall their anatomy education and the warm, personable faculty fondly.
Yet the connection runs even deeper, for in many ways Temple’s philosophy of care aligns with the Liss family values. Tracing this vein as far back as the bakery days when Gilbert’s parents anonymously left bread on their neighbors’ doorsteps during the Great Depression, Fred Liss says that this spirit of giving is part of their emotional DNA—being part of something bigger, helping those less fortunate, working to make a difference and never forgetting one’s roots.
“We have this affinity for Temple because its philosophy is so much like our own,” Fred Liss says. “My father consistently reminded us that each patient who comes to you for care is your most important patient, regardless of means.’ That’s Temple’s values, and that’s my family’s values, too.”
Laura Liss, who represents the family’s third generation of Temple graduates, says she chose Temple for its commitment to service and especially appreciates the social work she observed during her time there. “As a resident I have come to see what an important role that is, and how taking care of patients is often more than medicine. Temple does that so well.” ts
Over the course of a career, the philosophy of putting patients first has been an important touchstone and a reminder of what really matters most. “My father built this beautiful life for himself by giving to others and Temple was always a big part of it,” Bob Liss says. “It’s important to all of us.”
Most recently, Fred’s son Nathan was accepted to the Class of 2020. After ‘coating’ his son at Temple Med’s white coat ceremony, he now looks forward to the day he will hand his own son a diploma, and in doing so pass the baton to another generation of Temple-trained physicians.
While Fred and his siblings still know how to bake the Liss breads—rye bread is his specialty—medicine has proved to be their true calling. “It wasn’t easy for my father to change career tracks,” Fred says. “But as a result of his vision and determination, we are all passionate about the school that helped make us who