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‘Greatness lies in what we do for others’
Fredericksburg doctor is celebrated — and quasi-roasted — at a fundraiser for a local shelter.
“There’s just not a lot of dirt on this man,” said Florinda Canizares Chun when it was her turn to roast her father, Dr. Roberto Canizares, at a recent fundraiser for Fredericksburg’s Thurman Brisben Center.
The complaint was echoed by a series of speakers at the gala dinner held at the Fredericksburg Hospitality House. The event included Canizares’ medical school classmates, colleagues, patients, family members and friends.
Just how much roasting can one do when the subject is a daily communicant who leads the rosary after the 6:30 a.m. Mass at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg and then heads to King George County for his general practice of medicine? After closing the office at the end of the day, he comes back to Fredericksburg to stop in at Thurman Brisben, a full-service residential emergency homeless shelter, to provide free medical care with compassion and respect.
Kim Lally, Thurman Brisben Center development director, borrowed the idea for the fundraiser from Home Again, a Richmond facility with the same mission for the homeless. Lally was ecstatic that the first of what will become an annual event brought in more than her goal of $25,000.
When she approached “Doc C,” as her staff and the residents affectionately call Canizares, the modest physician had misgivings but eventually agreed to be the roastee. Canizares joked later that he hesitated only because he “hates to dress up.”
Father Donal J. Rooney, pastor of St. Mary, gave the invocation and was one of the roasters, calling Canizares a “most loving, most sincere man.” Father Rooney also mentioned Canizares’ practice of offering free flu shots for the parish staff and at the quarterly senior luncheons. He does the inoculations in memory of his late wife, Dr. Teresita Cacha Canizares, an OB-GYN who also was devoted to the poor and underserved in Fredericksburg.
Dr. Napoleon Abando of Chicago spoke of being a fellow surgical resident for four years with Canizares. While there was a competitive atmosphere, he said, “Bobby was the perfect friend and a perfect gentleman always.”
Dr. Virginia Mercado, a Baltimore surgeon, met Canizares when he was 18 and they were students at Far Eastern University in Manila in the Philippines. Eventually, their student group included “seven ladies and one guy who all became very close friends — like a family,” said Mercado. “Bobby was our driver and protector, and he couldn’t pass a chapel without stopping in to make a visit.”
With so many American doctors serving in Vietnam at the time, Mercado, Canizares and his future wife accepted an invitation to come to the United States in June 1968 for additional training. The three friends began an internship at Provident Hospital in Baltimore. They then advanced to South Baltimore General Hospital where they were residents.
In her tribute at the dinner, Mercado related how even in their early days as interns, Canizares showed great compassion and an excellent bedside manner.
In closing her remarks, Mercado reminded the audience that Baltimore’s loss was Fredericksburg’s gain. Dr. Gonzalo Guacena Jr., who had been the chief surgical resident in Baltimore, relocated to Fredericksburg’s Mary Washington Hospital and invited the newly married Canizares couple to set up practice there also.
Guacena, a fellow Filipino-American who emceed the gala, has been a close friend of the Canizares family for nearly 40 years. Like his old friend, both the physician and his wife, Perla Guacena, are devoted to St. Mary and to helping their Fredericksburg community.
Canizares, now 71, was raised in a devout Catholic home in Makati, outside of Manila, where his father was in banking and his mother was a biology teacher. The fifth of seven sons, he is a self-proclaimed “mama’s boy” who enjoyed helping around the house with dusting and cleaning.
He went to church daily and was a regular at the novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a favorite of the resident Redemptorists, and a novena to St. Jude.
The doctor begins his day with Mass and often ends up back at the parish for the Miraculous Medal novena or for adoration.
Not surprisingly, at the end of the program, Doc C kept his remarks short and to the point. He thanked the guests and asked for their continued financial support and prayers for the homeless, sharing his philosophy that “Greatness lies in what we do for others.”
Mahoney is a freelance writer from Fredericksburg.
Dr. Roberto Canizares, a parishioner of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg, prepares to visit with a homeless client at the Thurman Brisben Center in Fredericksburg.