It is with sadness that the family shares the passing of Dr. A. John Elliot in Sarasota, Fl. on August 11th. He is survived by his wife Judith Metzger Elliot, his daughters Sharon Ahern (husband Tom), Cassie Elliot and stepson Trowbridge Cottrell. He was predeceased by his only son, Robert Elliot, in 2017.
John was born on April 3, 1933 in Trenton, N.J. to parents Americus (Mike) and Theresa. John's parents, being second generation (Mike) and first generation (Theresa) Italian immigrants, made the unusual decision to have a single child. Having experienced the hardships of the Depression, they felt all resources should be devoted to one offspring. Christened as Amerigo John Eleuteri, he chose to change his last name to Elliot during his medical residency because when called over the loudspeaker, the attendants often said "Elliot" rather than "Eleuteri", either from an inability or an unwillingness to articulate the actual surname. From an early age John was told by his mother that he would grow up to be a doctor, specifically a surgeon, and she worked the ice cream counter at Schafts to earn money for piano lessons "to strengthen his hands." Despite being banned from sports by Theresa, John displayed his rebellious nature early by partaking avidly in both street stick ball and then high school football, though he couldn't escape the piano lessons.
Luckily for all, John turned out to have an incredible intellect coupled with equally incredible energy and creativity. As valedictorian for his Trenton High School Class, he gave what was by all accounts a rousing speech condemning McCarthyism. One of the rare public-school graduates of the time to attend the prestigious Princeton University, he soon found friends at Phi Beta Kappa. Upon graduating from Princeton in 1955, pre-med of course, John went on to graduate with his medical degree from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in NYC, (1959), a surgical internship at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD (1959/1960), a surgical residency at Saint Vincent's Hospital in NYC (1960/61) and an orthopedic residency at Yale University in New Haven, CT (1961-64). In 1968, he was Honorably Discharged from the U.S. Army Reserves as Captain from a MASH unit. It bears noting that because John was often at the top of his class, he was able to obtain academic scholarships and could not have excelled without them, notwithstanding any natural talents. He remained keenly aware of this factor in his success, and it weighed heavily in his consistent desire to give back to any community in which he found himself. Particularly striking about these achievements is that John was left-handed and at the time all procedures were taught exclusively as right hand dominant. John had not only to learn complex surgical procedures but had to transfer these skills on his own.
With his first wife, Stephanie Hilstrom, John moved his family to Westerly, R.I, despite numerous "big city offers" across the country. He chose Westerly for two very specific reasons: he was devoted to nature, the ocean in particular, and he wanted to bring his skills to a community largely comprised of Italian Americans. During his early years at the Westerly Hospital, he became close friends with Dr. Lombardo and the two of them cut quite a scene, particularly in a fundraising song and dance production entitled "Stop the Stretcher I Want to Get Off". The play ran for several nights and by all accounts their soft shoe song and dance act stole the show. As a sole practitioner, he was notorious for keeping patients waiting long past their scheduled appointment times, often for hours, which they tolerated because he was not only a gifted orthopedic surgeon, but a brilliant diagnostician, often discovering serious medical conditions that other specialists had missed or not recognized at all. Willing to work with his patients on a barter basis, the family was inundated with homemade wine, soupy, baked goods and assorted offerings over the course of many years, most spectacular being the construction of a dock outside of the home in Avondale. John ultimately rose to prominence within the Westerly Hospital, becoming Chief of Staff and Chief of Surgery. He was often pursued by local attorneys for his skills as a testifying physician, being particularly adroit at explaining complicated operations and recoveries, along with his unique ability to connect with both judges and juries. He attributed this ability to his turn at Yale University where he was also acting as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Orthopedics.
As a lifelong learner himself, in the early 1980s John went to Cambridge College, UK, to learn the new orthopedic procedure of Arthroscopy. He brought both the tools and his expertise back to the Westerly Community. In 1986 John traveled to West China Medical University in Chengdu as a visiting Professor, and despite the language barrier, he provided instruction on the skill of Arthroscopy. Having spent this time in China he did pick up some of the Mandarin language, which he insisted on using when the family would eat at local Chinese restaurants, though never once was the family served what John maintained he had ordered. Just last year he was named a Professor Emeritus by the West China Medical University.
On a personal level during those years, John spent many a cold winter's day in a duck blind with his best friends, Steve Farago, Misty (his beloved Gordon Setter), their thermos, their flask and John's pipe. Most Thanksgiving dinners were the non-traditional pheasant, which was hard to overeat since the family was constantly reminded to "avoid the buckshot". With his wife Judy, John enjoyed fly fishing in both fresh and salt water, a sport from which his daughters benefitted because he often crafted lovely jewelry from the flies he insisted on tying himself. John and Judy also traveled extensively to the American West to fish and ski, took several extensive trips to Europe, particularly enjoying visits to hear John's beloved opera. John was also an enthusiastic dancer, having twirled many a partner into the band. Over the years his eldest daughter alone managed to take out at least one piano player, a few drummers and not an insignificant number of saxophonists; his younger daughter seemed to have a statistical edge when it came to trombones. Aside from his wife, his favorite dance partner was the incomparable Angie Smith. The two of them were renowned for spontaneously bursting into The Charleston, regardless of what music was actually being played. Also with his wife Judy, he enjoyed competing in anything he could. As a member of the Misquamicut Club he entered numerous tennis and golf tournaments, even into later life. As a member of the Watch Hill Yacht Club he lived for the yearly Bermuda Race, often sailing with Tim Kniffen, both of them hoping for "exciting weather". In a fit of pique, he ultimately resigned from the Yacht Club when they banned the smoking of cigars on the outside deck, another passion of his - despite his role as a physician - a position he had no trouble staking out because cigars were a "well-recognized de-stressor."
Always invested in current politics, in 1980 John led a community response to a controversial long-range health plan proposed by the R.I. Department of Health which would have effected how care was provided locally. During a 5-hour meeting, with over 2000 residents in attendance at the Westerly High School, John famously led the charge against the plan, stating "Although you are guests here you are by no means welcome," to resounding cheers and applause. Moreover, few people know that John was a major factor in the installation of barriers between North and South flowing traffic on Route 78, due to numerous head-on collisions he treated in the Emergency Room prior to their placement.
A frequent contributor to the editorial pages of the Providence Journal, John decided to enter politics for real and ran for national congress in 1984. That was deemed The Year of the Doctor, with physicians across the country running for national office, seeking national changes to the health care system. Other than Newt Gingrich, John may have been the only citizen who actually read the entire Contract with America, a fact to which his family can attest because it took up most of the dining room table for far too long. He ran as a Republican against then R.I. State legislator Jack Reed. With a total count of 39% of the vote, he was encouraged by the National Republican Party to run again, but he despised raising money that he felt he had not worked for, and so opted for retirement instead.
In 2015 John and Judy relocated to Lakewood Ranch Florida, just outside of Sarasota. Never content to rest intellectually idle, John wrote and self-published an historical novel, "The Last Trumpet." He took out so many books from the Selby Library in downtown Sarasota that they had to freeze his account at one point.
A true individual from start to finish, John, a.k.a Bones, will be deeply missed. Judy has scheduled a funeral on Monday, August 23 at 9:30 a.m. at Robert Toale & Sons Funeral Home at Palms Memorial Park, 170 Honore Ave., Sarasota, FL. 34232 and she asks that anyone who wants to contact her do so through the funeral parlor. A local memorial will be held at a date as yet to be determined.
Published by The Westerly Sun on Aug. 22, 2021.