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Robert A. Fink, M.D., F.A.C.S.

January 17, 1938 - January 23, 2016
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Sunset View Mortuary
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Obituary

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.

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Service Schedule

Service Information

Date: Friday, February 5, 2016

Time: 10:30 am

St. Perpetua Church

Address:

3454 Hamlin Road, Lafayette, CA,

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Date: Friday, February 5, 2016

Time: 1:30 pm

Sunset View Cemetery Association

Address:

101 Colusa Avenue, El Cerrito, CA, 94530

Cemetery Information

Date: Thursday, January 1, 1970

Sunset View Cemetery Association

Address:

101 Colusa Avenue, El Cerrito, CA, 94530

 

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Timeline for Robert Fink, M.D., F.A.C.S.

Born: January 17, 1938
Died: January 23, 2016

Condolences for Robert Fink, M.D., F.A.C.S.

Sunset View Mortuary

Our sincere condolences.

The staff of Sunset View Mortuary.

 

June Davenport posted on 1/31/16

Robert was also a member Of BPSO , BPSO@bpso.org We learned a lot from his contributions. June Davenport

 

R.Gary Brown posted on 2/5/16

When I was twenty I had a seizure for the first time. Up until then I did not have any health problems and lived a normal life. The doctors that were treating me were baffled and could not determine a cause. I was given the name of Dr. Fink and made an appointment to see him. After some testing he determined what was causing my seizures and prescribed medicines which turned my life around. At the start of my treatment by Dr. Fink I did not know that our relationship would be so long term nor that we would become good friends. As the years passed I would see Dr. Fink on a yearly basis just so he could be sure that I was not having any problems or changes in my health. This relationship continued for 37 years when my wife and I relocated to Reno. Even thou I no longer saw Dr. Fink professionally, we kept up a personal relationship. It was during a phone call early in 2015 that he told me the he had cancer and was being treated. Early December, Dr. Fink told me that life was good and he was ready for what the future would hold for him. Never the less, it was with great sadness when I was informed that he had passed away. He was one of the most warm-hearted and compassionate people I have ever met. My blessing go out to his family. Rensselaer Gary Brown Reno, NV

 

Rebecca Abrams posted on 2/3/16

Lit a candle in memory of Robert A. Fink, M.D., F.A.C.S.

 

Ragna Boynton posted on 2/5/16

To Ilene, Deb, Bekka, Rena, and Robin, My heart goes out to all of you for the loss of this beautiful man in your lives. He was definitely "one-of-a-kind" in personality and professionally. I looked up to him for his intelligence, commitment to medicine, and always working to make the world a better place for everyone, including across racial and socioeconomic divides. Ragna Boynton ("Doctor Ronnie")

 

Chris Tse posted on 2/4/16

We came across Bob in an online discussion group for brain tumor patients not long after my wife Lynda was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme in 2006. Bob helped many brain tumor patients from around the world by answering their questions about brain tumors, from topics such as managing symptoms to choosing treatment options. He was the only clinician who regularly participated on the list and his support and advice was highly regarded by patients. In 2008 we were fortunate to meet Bob and Ilene when they visited our home town of Wellington, New Zealand. On a visit to the National Museum of New Zealand, Bob was offered one of the complimentary mobility scooters to try out. After taking a few minutes to become accustomed to the controls, he soon got the hang of it and by the end of the afternoon was an expert driver. I am sure Bob got just as much enjoyment from riding the mobility scooter around the museum than observing the actual exhibits! We were delighted to meet up with Bob and Ilene again in 2013, when Lynda and I visited California where we enjoyed a lovely dinner and evening together. In 2014, I did an interview with Bob for “Brain Tumour” magazine, which can be read online here: http://issuu.com/ibta-org/docs/ibta-2014/c/sphie47 It was with great sadness that we learned of Bob’s passing and we send Ilene and family our love and condolences. Chris Tse (Senior Advisor, International Brain Tumour Alliance)

 

cecily marcus posted on 2/1/16

Bekka and family, I am so sorry for this great loss. I hope you find much comfort in each other and all your loved ones. --Cecily Marcus

 

Fritz Miller posted on 1/30/16

1.well so many positive memory of Robert Fink brother-in-law who married and divorced my sister Georgia Jackman Hildegard Miller. Brother Robert helped Georgia pass on from cancer of pancreas in a state of forgiveness and healing that allowed their daughter Robin to succeed in life with love not bitterness for both parents. 2. Brother Robert diagnosed my father with Parkinsons and provided expert treatment allowing him to live a good life for many years. 3. We both are Vietnam era army veterans and shared experiences. 4. I remember Robin's graduation from Reed where Bob and the rest of the gang had such a nice experience 5. whenever Jackie and I went to San Francisco it was always so much fun palling around with brother Robert. 6. Bob loved Cadillacs and their panache and convinced Eileen to love them too. 7. I asked brother Robert why he chose the Catholic Church. Well he said I have a scientific side and I also mystical side. The Catholic Church fills that. 8. When Bob wanted to marry sister Georgia he asked her what church she wanted to get married in. Not Lutheran she said. How about church of religious since where she had briefly studied for the ministry. Too Positive she said. So they both decided on the Catholic Church. In the marriage ceremony no one present was catholic so the priest had to explain the service. 9. Although both Georgia and Bob initially had a rocky divorce in the end before Georgia passed on a great healing took place because both Bob and Georgia were spiritually strong enough to heal their differences.

 

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