At 100 years old, psychiatrist Martin Kassell isn’t about to retire

By Marilyn Hawkes

At 100 years old, psychiatrist Martin Kassell isn’t about to retire.

Valley psychiatrist Martin Kassell, who recently turned 100, says there’s no secret to living a long life. “I have no secret. It’s genetics,” he says. His mother lived to be 96, and his aunt, 98.

Longevity may be linked to genetics, but the quality of your life depends on you, Kassell says. “That becomes your own. It’s the experiences you have, how you develop and how you live. I’ve been fortunate.”

At 100, Kassell plays golf three times a week and still sees patients in his home office. He also mentors young psychiatrists and evaluates cases for the Arizona Medical Board. Why does he continue to work? “Why not? I enjoy it,” he says.

Kassell graduated from medical school in 1948 and spent 23 years practicing general medicine on the east coast. But when that was no longer challenging, he decided to look into specialty medicine. “I got bored,” he says.

After considering ophthalmology, dermatology and radiology, Kassell decided on psychiatry after spending a month observing the psychiatry department at Jefferson Medical College at the urging of a golf partner who was a professor there. At age 48, he entered a psychiatry residency at the college.

In 1976, Kassell and his wife, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, moved to Phoenix. “The winters back east were taking a toll on her,” he says. The couple settled in and Kassell went to work for Maricopa Medical Center and then the Arizona State Hospital, where he served as chief psychiatrist and clinical director until 1986.

He thought about retiring then, but an opportunity to start a psychiatry unit at the Maricopa Durango Jail was presented to him. He said he’d do it for a year. “That lasted 10 years,” he says. At age 81, he “got chopped” by the sheriff’s department during a time of “government turmoil,” but maintains that 10 years was long enough.

Kassell still lives in the same house that he shared with his wife of 59 years, who died of ovarian cancer in 2000. Now he lives with his daughter.

One of Kassell’s greatest joys is playing golf with four friends three times a week. He met two of the four golfers on the course about 8 or 9 years ago and they became fast friends. “We love each other. We banter back and forth, we kibbitz, we needle each other,” he says. “I can tell you that everyday I’m so happy I have them. So happy.”

The quintet plays by Kassell’s rules – no keeping score and you don’t have to limit yourself to one ball. “We’re out there to enjoy playing golf, get a little exercise, enjoy the beauty of the scenery, get some fresh air and relax. That’s the way you play golf,” he says.

His golf buddies watch out for him on the course. “I have to take two or three shots to catch up with their one shot. They don’t care,” he says. “If I have to step over a curb, somebody grabs me by the elbow and takes care of me.”

In January, the golf group threw Kassell a 100th birthday party. He supplied the guest list and they took care of everything else. “It was great. I feel so blessed,” he says. About 50 people attended, including members of Kassell’s family.

Many people got up and spoke about him, Kassell says, and it was “very, very nice.” But when it was his turn to speak, Kassell says he was overcome with emotion and doesn’t remember much of what he said. “It was quite a party.”

Between golf, seeing the occasional patient and mentoring, Kassell enjoys painting. He took a two-month painting class at the Phoenix Art Museum a few years back and the rest is self-taught, he says.

The walls of Kassell’s home office are lined with his paintings. He also plays the piano occasionally, has a ham radio set up with a 35-foot antenna and serves on the neighborhood board. “That’s what keeps me young,” he says.