On January 23, 2016, Berkeley’s pioneering neurosurgeon, Robert A Fink, MD, FACS, 78, died with family at home, following a long struggle with prostate cancer.
Bob was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, where he was known as “Robbie” “The Walking Encyclopedia”. A 1961 graduate of University of Maryland’s Medical School in Baltimore, he completed his specialization training at the University of Chicago. Bob married Doris Levi (whom he met at age 15) following Medical School graduation at age 23. They lived first in Chicago, then in North Berkeley beginning in 1966, where they welcomed Bob’s first three daughters, Deborah, Bekka and Rena. After Doris’s death (1985) Bob married Georgia Jackman and welcomed daughter, Robin. Bob later met Ilene Dillon, whom he married in 1998. Ilene did a step-parent adoption of Robin after Robin’s mother, Georgia, died in 2000. Robin continues her father’s legacy, having worked to develop Jungle Mamas, a maternal and infant health program developed with the Shuar and Achuar nations in Ecuador, a part of nonprofit The Pachamama Alliance.
Bob first worked in Berkeley at Lawrence-Berkeley National Laboratory, from which he purloined at least one of the many beloved family cats. He served in the army (rising to the rank of Major) during the Vietnam War, stationed at Letterman Hospital, on The Presidio in San Francisco.
After Army service, Bob began his 47-year private practice in Berkeley. Bob involved Doris closely in the development of one of the first trauma-focused hospital services in Northern California (Herrick), which served as a model for other hospitals. He was Chief of Surgery and Head of Neurosurgery, which allowed him to raise funds for an early MRI machine, introduce laser brain and spinal surgery, and set modern standards of neurological care. He also recruited outstanding African American and Jewish doctors (who were not yet fully accepted, even in Berkeley), to the Herrick staff, and championed the causes of the nurses with whom he worked. He was renowned as an outstanding diagnostician, who, proudly, was never sued in his 47 years of practice. Bob worked as a surgeon at Kaiser, Doctor’s, Summit, Alta Bates, Highland and many other Bay Area hospitals. He served for a time on Berkeley’s Police Review Commission.
As a trauma-oriented surgeon, Dr. Fink repaired gunshot wounds, broken necks and backs, and even removed an arrow shot through someone’s skull. He operated on members of the Black Panthers and one of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy’s sons. He was proud to have been “checked out” by the Kennedys and found to be a loyal democrat.
Later in his career, Bob became an expert legal witness for medical malpractice cases, utilizing his keen medical and mental capabilities. Even in retirement, he consulted, diagnosing an indigenous South American child from a photograph, assisting travel plans for a woman injured in a fall in Ecuador, and volunteering to close a head wound on a young Palestinian. Dr. Fink had many published professional articles, conference presentations, and was also Assistant Professor at the UCSF Medical School, where he enjoyed teaching young medical students there and at the VA.
Bob fully supported Ilene in her career as a psychotherapist, and was very proud that he and Ilene were both featured in The Generational Puzzle (2012), and End-of-Life Communication in the ICU (2008). Bob also was featured on Ilene’s Full Power Living Internet radio program, on a program titled “Inside the Mind and Emotions of a Neurosurgeon.”
Bob had a great passion for music, and was a piano prodigy at age 6, studying at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. He played in the Drum and Fife Corps at his alma mater, Baltimore City College. He was a loyal subscriber to the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra for over three decades, and enjoyed playing his piano and conducting when he had the opportunity. He was also an avid still and video photographer, and a great lover of good food. He also loved to travel, spending two months on a South Seas cruise and tour of New Zealand and Australia with Ilene in 2008.
Bob is survived by his wife and partner, Ilene Dillon-Fink, his only sister, Maureen Rose Chatham, daughters, Deborah (David Streitfeld), Bekka, Rena and Robin Fink, step-children Jonathan Lambert (Anne) and Liz Schroeder (Warren) and grandchildren Stephanie, Natalie and Andrew Schroeder and Amelia and Ava Lambert. Also nieces Rebecca Chatham (Baltimore), Nicolette Gamache (Dave/Chico) and Katie Russell (Austin, TX), and nephew David Rose (NYC). He is also survived by his sister-in-law Martie Russell (Dennis), brother-in-law Richard Lambert (Mary), sister-in-law Heidi Gross, and longtime close family friend, Deki Fox. Additionally, Bob is survived by his beloved kitties, Rubespierre, Honey, and dog, Pi.
Very special thanks to Bob’s Care Givers, especially Lynette Rivard, Fritzie Ortega, and Janice Ramirez. Thanks too, to Care Indeed, AIM, and Sutter Care at Home.
In lieu of flowers, please make donations in Dr. Fink’s name to Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (www.philharmonia.org), St Anthony’s Dining Room (www.stanthonysf.org/diningroom/), Central Works (www.centralworks.org), or Jungle Mamas program, www.pachamama.org/
Funeral services Friday, February 5: Mass 10:30 am, St Perpetua Church, 3454 Hamlin Rd, Lafayette, CA, followed by a graveside ceremony at Sunset View Cemetery, El Cerrito, CA, and following interment for an informal gathering of sharing and remembering/shiva at 4:00 pm, 1820 Derby Street, Berkeley, CA 94703.
Date: Friday, February 5, 2016
Time: 10:30 am
St. Perpetua Church
Address:3454 Hamlin Road, Lafayette, CA,
Date: Friday, February 5, 2016
Time: 1:30 pm