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Getting to know the real Dr. Katherine Teets Grimm

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Getting to know Dr. Katherine Teets Grimm, early on, was one the reasons I felt glad that I created the Roosevelt Island Daily News. It taught me how much we miss, sometimes, in the people we think we know about.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

About Kathy Grimm

Tonight, the Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance honors Dr. Grimm with its first Star Award in an event at the Sanctuary. It got me thinking about the first time I met her and why she’s been Kathy first and doctor second for me, ever since.

She’d just resigned after years of work as a board member at RIOC, and that prompted me to ask for an interview. It was a chilly November day in 2016 when she welcomed me into her office, then in Rivercross.

Dr. Grimm at work in 2016. ©David Stone/Roosevelt Island Daily News

“I wanted to make my life more simple,” Dr. Grimm told me.

Initially, David Bauer, head of the Maple Tree Group then working for increased democracy for Roosevelt Island, recruited her for the board. Elections were coming up.

It was a principle she respected, but now, after contributing to decisions revolutionizing the community, she’d had enough. As one building after another exited the Mitchell-Lama program, the meetings were “too vitriolic. People screaming and yelling at each other. I couldn’t stand it,” she said.

As the interview rolled on, it became clear that uproar was not within her makeup.

Quitting RIOC was a first step in simplifying her life, an urge brought on by recent tragic events.

Two months before, she called a friend for a consultation and found he’d gone through several recent operations and had metastatic cancer. Before she recovered from that shock, her daughter called.

“I have sad news for you.”

A first cousin, only 29 and a mother, died in an accident.

“This is it,” Dr. Grimm said. “I have to cut back.”

Getting to Know Dr. Katherine Teets Grimm

“Why simple?” I asked.

Practicing medicine was a privilege, she told me, and she wanted to enjoy it.

And there were practical, personal reasons. Neither of her adult children lived nearby. Her son in Washington and daughter in Virginia were “on my back to make myself more available to visit.”

The other Dr. Grimm

Most Roosevelt Islanders know Dr. Katherine Teets Grimm as the hardworking professional who helped birth and raise decades of children. But her history is far more complex and enlightening.

Raised in Plainfield, New Jersey, she graduated from Mount Sinai when there were only 10% women in the class.

A career that included faculty work at Johns Hopkins led to her being in charge of Mount Sinai’s pediatric emergency room from 1978 until 1997.

All while practicing medicine, she noted.

But the job that seemed to grab her most emotionally was her current work in charge of the child protection department at Mount Sinai. It tasked her with filling “a gap in child abuse pediatrics.”

“You deal with trauma all the time,” she said. “My passion is distinguishing between accidental and intentional injuries. You look for certain things and rely on other doctors’ support. The suffering of wrongly accused families is terrible.”

Dr. Katherine Teets Grimm, Roosevelt Islander

My head was spinning after hearing fascinating stories about this groundbreaking, deeply committed woman… I’d expected an easier story about a respected Roosevelt Island pioneer, but I got much more.

Dr. Grimm arrived on Roosevelt Island, already having a fond feeling from visiting friends.

In April 1987, one friend sent a her a news clipping about a lottery for Rivercross. She and her husband got a low number, becoming eligible for a three bedroom apartment.

Then, fate intervened.

Dr. Harvey Sudzin, founder of the practice she now runs, had stroke.

Dr. Grimm was asked to fill in and “liked it very much.”

When it became clear that Sudzin was not coming back, she recruited another doctor to cover Monday through Thursday while she held down the fort on Fridays. Gradually, the moved up to half-time

“It’s a wonderful practice, very international, very interesting,” she says. 

And very rewarding for years of Roosevelt Island families sharing the privilege of her work.

The last word…

Finally, wrapping up, I asked what kept her going, contributing so broadly for so long.

“Christian spiritual things are my driving force,” she said simply, and as with so many of her stories, she shrugged.

Dr. Katherine Teets Grimm’s achievements, in perspective, seem exceeded only by her humbleness.

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