Dr. Edward Zwig didn’t need a brush with death to appreciate life, but he had just that in June 1995. That was when the Decatur-based periodontist was one of 55 passengers aboard a ValuJet plane en route to Miami that caught fire as it was preparing to take off in Atlanta.
Days after the ordeal, in which three flight attendants and four passengers were injured, Dr. Zwig returned to Atlanta and an office overrun with well-wishers. He told a reporter, “It didn't really hit me until I was out with my family Tuesday night celebrating my wife's birthday. I realized I almost didn't make it to the party this year.”
Dr. Zwig, a Navy veteran, was one of the most giving people before the incident, friends and family said, and the situation didn’t have an adverse effect on him.
Edward E. Zwig, of Atlanta, died Friday at home from complications associated with pulmonary fibrosis. He was 79 and preparing to celebrate a birthday toward the end of the month. His body will be buried during a private family ceremony and a memorial service is planned for noon at The Temple, 1589 Peachtree St., Atlanta. H.M. Patterson & Son, Arlington Chapel, is in charge of arrangements.
An only child, born and raised in Detroit, except for his high school years, Dr. Zwig came from a family of “modest means,” said Dr. Eugene Bloom, former college roommate and brother-in-law.
“He was really goal-oriented,” Dr. Bloom said. “While the other guys might play on the weekends, he worked on the weekends, driving a tour bus around Atlanta so he could make money and go to professional school and become a dentist.”
In 1956, he graduated from dental school at Emory University and entered the Naval Dental Corp., where he practiced general dentistry and eventually earned the rank of lieutenant colonel. He went back to school after the Navy so he could specialize in periodontics, and by 1964 he was practicing in Atlanta. As soon as he was in a position to help someone else, he did, and then encouraged others to do the same, family and friends said.
Marcy Solmson, a daughter who lives in Sandy Springs, said she will never forget how her dad helped a friend of her daughter a few years ago. The young man wanted to see Nantucket, which was where the Zwig family was headed. The two worked out a deal, Dr. Zwig paid for the trip and the young man would pay the doctor back at the end of the summer, when he’d saved up enough money.
“The end of the summer came and he brought dad a check for like $1,000, I think,” Mrs. Solmson said. “And dad took the check and tore it up and told him to use that money to go to college... That’s the kind of man my dad was.”
By day, Dr. Zwig performed intricate oral surgeries, and by night, he used those same hands to build model planes and playhouses and turn the pages of his favorite World War II history books. It was his hands, family and friends said, that brought him so much happiness and enjoyment.
“The first time I saw him work, I was in awe,’’ said Dr. David Noble of Atlanta, and former business partner. “It was the precision with which he did the surgery. I watched him for only a few minutes before I knew I wanted to go into business with him. He was a very skilled surgeon.”
Drs. Noble and Zwig, both periodontists, worked together for 37 years in a Decatur office. Dr. Zwig retired around 2005, after multiple surgeries on his shoulder made it hard for him to operate.
“He loved to ski,” said Jane M. Zwig, his wife of nearly 55 years, who lives in Atlanta. “But he’d fallen a lot and had to have surgeries on his shoulder.”
Dr. Zwig worked as long as he could because he knew there was work that needed to be done, and he wanted to do it, his partner said.
“I think of the thousands he likely treated at no charge over the years,” Dr. Noble said. “And he didn’t do it for recognition because most times nobody knew about it but the person he was working on, and maybe one other. He was unassuming and humble like that.”
In addition to his daughter and wife, Dr. Zwig is also survived by a second daughter, Carol Andersson of Nantucket, Mass.; son Andrew Zwig of Atlanta; and two granddaughters.
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