Shortly after 9/11, Dr. Ron Gilbert penned a letter to his sons advising them to live honorable and meaningful lives.
"Try not to be bitter about the many unfortunate things that may happen to you in your life," he wrote. "Your response to difficult situations will in large part define you as a person."
Less than 12 years later, those words were read again — at Gilbert's funeral and on what would have been his 53rd birthday.
Gilbert, 52, was shot to death Jan. 28 in his urology office near Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. His wife, Elizabeth, discovered the letter as she combed through documents to fill out his death certificate.
Friends and family said the letter to his sons epitomized someone they described as thoughtful, measured, devoted to Judaism and well-rounded, the kind of man who could crack jokes and then quickly shift gears to a meaningful conversation.
"That guy was more than three dimensional, man, he was phenomenal," said Dr. Mark Rayman, a friend since childhood. "He was extremely intelligent, but he had charisma. … He had an ability to connect with everybody — young, old — and just make everybody feel special."
Stanwood Elkus is charged with lying in wait in Gilbert's medical office and then shooting him to death. Elkus, 75, is expected in court Aug. 23 for a preliminary hearing and faces a minimum sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Elkus, who has pleaded not guilty, told the Daily Pilot in a jailhouse interview that he believes Gilbert botched his surgery years ago, but those familiar with the case say the suspect mistook the victim for someone with a similar name.
"I'll admit, what I did was a terrible thing," Elkus told the Pilot at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange.
Elkus, however, did not clarify whether that "terrible thing" was shooting Gilbert.
The shooting claimed the life of a man described by his brother Glenn Gilbert as "a super mensch."
"I said, 'I think we should come up with a new term and put it in the Yiddish dictionary with his picture by it, and we should call it a `super mensch' or a `Ronald Gilbert mensch' or something and distinguish it from all the other mensches," Glenn Gilbert recalled, using the Yiddish word for a person of integrity and honor. "Because to lump him in the category with all the other mensches is not accurate."
While Gilbert's family was sitting shiva at their home in Huntington Harbour in the days after he was killed, mourners shared stories no one had previously heard.
One woman said authorities suspected her son had been sexually abused and threatened to take him away. She was so scared of losing her son, she almost left the country. But after Gilbert examined the boy, he wrote county officials, saying there was no indication the boy was abused, and the family stayed together.
"Now, I never knew about this," Glenn Gilbert said. "I think most people would go, 'Hey, guess what? I saved this family.' Or they'd let you know. He had so much to boast about. … After he died I heard so many stories right and left of how he helped people, and ... I never heard them when he was alive.
"You know, some people do good things to promote themselves and for their ego gratification, and that was not him. He did it because he was a great person."
Friends turned to Ron Gilbert for medical advice. When Eli Benzaken was repairing his rabbi's dryer and tore open a bloody gash on his arm, he went straight to Gilbert's office.
When doctors diagnosed Benzaken's wife, Carol Adams, with a large tumor, she turned to Gilbert, who made sure she had a skillful oncologist. After her discharge from a hospital room with a beautiful view, Gilbert sent her sunflowers and visited her daily for a week and a half.
"He was kind of the consummate physician," Adams said. "He didn't ever leave that role of being a physician or a healer. He always listened when we were talking about things. He'd say, 'Oh, this is good for you,' or, 'Oh, this isn't good for you,' in a very nice, loving way because he was a physician through and through."
As a young man Gilbert performed similar deeds. He trained partly at the Long Beach Veterans Affairs hospital.