Film director Brett Ratner grew up in 1970s and ’80s Miami Beach, raised by a single mom, his grandmother, and a significant male figure.
His grandfather. A man he also honors as “my father.”
Dr. Mario Presman — a radiologist born Mieczyslaw Pressman in Poland on Oct. 23, 1920, raised largely in Cuba and trained as a medical doctor at the University of Havana — helped his daughter raise Ratner who was, at the time, his only grandchild.
Two days after Presman’s death at 94 on Dec. 15 at his grandson’s home in Beverly Hills, California, Ratner reflected on the Miami radiologist’s impact on his family and the community.
“To me, he was the greatest man in the world. He loved what he did. He loved his job. He set an example. He never once went on vacation. He worked at the Veterans Administration Hospital for over 30 years. He wasn’t in the war, but he loved being there and helping people and loved veterans,” said Ratner, whose directing credits include Rush Hour and its two sequels, X-Men: The Last Stand, Beverly Hills Cop IV, due in 2016, and music videos for Madonna, Mariah Carey and D’Angelo.
“We learned from what he showed us and how he lived. He taught us by example by living a life with integrity, with dignity and with love. He had such an open mind and he was such a happy person. He was such a happy person,” Ratner said.
As a child, Presman was often on the move. At 3, he left Poland for Cuba and soon would move to Quillota, Chile. At 11, he moved back to Cuba briefly and then to the Dominican Republic where he finished high school and studied medicine at Autonomous University of Santo Domingo.
In 1945, the Presman family once again returned to Cuba and he completed his medical education at the University of Havana in 1951. Presman married Fanita Stone in 1946 and the couple would begin raising their children, Marsha and George, on the island.
After the Revolution, Presman worked as an assistant professor of radiology at the General Clixto Garcia University Hospital in central Havana in 1960, but when his brother-in-law was arrested and faced, but avoided, execution, the Presmans knew they had to leave Cuba.
Presman, with his wife and two children, all of whom survive him, arrived in Miami in 1961 with one suitcase and he spoke little English. An act of Congress, dated Oct. 3, 1966, helped Presman become a naturalized United States citizen.
“Look at the irony, two days before Cuba opened … this decent, kind-hearted, warm man died in his sleep, which is the most-beautiful way to go after a great 94 years,” Ratner said Wednesday.
A year after becoming a citizen, Presman received his license to practice medicine in Florida. Over the decades he worked as an assistant chief of radiology at Veterans Administration, a clinical instructor in the Department of Radiology at the University of Miami School of Medicine, practiced radiology at the now-closed St. Francis Hospital in Miami Beach in the mid-1970s, and nuclear medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
Nicknamed Pipa, Presman was a member of the Cuban Medical Association in Exile, the Cuban Radiological Society and the Dade County Radiological Society.
But, most of all, he was a family man.
When Ratner moved to Hollywood he missed his grandparents, so he rented actor Charlie Sheen’s luxury bus and presented it to the Presmans, since Fanita doesn’t fly, so that they could move in with him.
“That was their first move. That bus was nicer than their apartment at Seacoast Towers,” their grandson said. “That trip became like a second honeymoon 14 years ago.”
“He was a medical doctor and he aspired for me to go to college,” Ratner, 45, an alum of Rabbi Alexander S. Gross Hebrew Academy and Miami Beach Senior High School, said. “Of course, he wanted me to be a doctor, as well. When I told him I was going to NYU film school he wasn’t disappointed. He said, ‘If that was your dream.’ His dream was to have my dream come true. That inspired me. That was an incredible gift.”
Presman is also survived by grandchildren Max, Dash, Chanel and Skyler, and his sister, Anita Wagner. Services will be 1 p.m. Friday at Levitt-Weinstein Eternal Light Funeral Center, 18840 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami Beach.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.