For Irv Pitman, Saturday was supposed to be spent at Yankee Stadium, where his beloved Bronx Bombers had been scheduled to play the rival Boston Red Sox.
During the seventh inning stretch, the Yankees were expected to honor Dr. Pitman, a retired dentist and World War II veteran who served in Italy, where he set up a dental clinic for soldiers in Florence in a railroad station built by Mussolini.
It was to be a special day for the Southold resident and 30 family members and neighbors, including friends from the Southold American Legion, who were to escort him to the game.
After the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in New York and the Major League Baseball season was suspended, so too were Dr. Pitman’s plans.
But those same friends and family members weren’t going to let the coronavirus put a complete stop to the celebration. After all, not everyone gets to experience their 103rd birthday.
So Dr. Pitman’s son John and his wife Sue drove him to the American Legion building on Main Road, where he sat in a cushioned chair and watched as dozens of automobiles, including town police cars and trucks from several local fire departments, greeted him with a birthday parade. He waved to each passing motorist, the outline of a smile visible through the mask that covered his mouth.
“There’s nobody that deserves it more than him,” said friend and neighbor Maureen Massa. “He is an amazing, humble person.”
Ms. Massa said Dr. Pitman was initially concerned about the parade being thrown for him, saying he’d rather see such celebrations reserved for the staff at San Simeon by the Sound Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Greenport, who have amazed him with the way they’ve kept COVID-19 out of their facility, protecting fellow centenarians and other seniors. After San Simeon was honored in a separate parade earlier this week, he warmed up to the idea.
He marveled at just how many people from across the North Fork came out to pay tribute to him.
“They came from East Marion,” he said of the volunteer firefighters from several hamlets away.
“There must have been 100 cars,” added John Pitman.
Born on May 9, 1917, Dr. Pitman remains a model of fitness and good health. He’s known to walk a mile each day and still frequently swims in the Long Island Sound in the warm weather months. He was married to his wife Suzanne for 76 years before she passed away in November 2018, just a few months shy of her 100th birthday.
Dr. Pitman, a New Jersey native, spent summers in Southold beginning in 1920 and he and his wife moved here permanently five years ago.
Among the few local living veterans from the Greatest Generation, he’s made quite the impression on fellow members of the American Legion and he continues to participate in Memorial Day parades. Legion Commander Charles Sanders noted that Dr. Pitman still asks to walk the route instead of riding in the vehicles reserved for older members.
On Saturday, in a year where the coronavirus canceled the local Memorial Day festivities, Saturday’s parade had Dr. Pitman front and center. One family that drove the route circled back around to greet him a second time. A woman politely asked if she could get out to snap a photo of the beloved veteran. He was happy to oblige.
There was no baseball being played in the Bronx Saturday, but Dr. Pitman was certainly a winner in Southold.
“It was a very good substitute,” he said of the celebration. “Very good.”