John Gostigian, 90, formerly of Newtown Square, a longtime surgeon at what is now Mercy Catholic Medical Center, died Saturday, Dec. 14 in Clearwater, Fla., after complications following a stroke.
Born March 27, 1929, in what was then Misericordia Hospital, across the street from the West Philadelphia home where he would grow up, Dr. Gostigian was the son of Armenian immigrants who ran a tailor shop in the city. When it was time to find a job as a teenager, he went back to the hospital — this would be a theme throughout his life — as a stock boy and later as an orderly.
Medicine would become his passion, and he briefly spent time in the Army as a medic before attending La Salle University for his undergraduate degree. He spent summers in college working as a lifeguard and bartender in Wildwood, where he fell in love with Pauline Sadowski. They married in May 1959.
In 1956, Dr. Gostigian graduated from what is now Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University and began his career, fittingly, at Misericordia. He spent more than 70 years working at the hospital and its sister hospital in Darby Borough, in what are today the Mercy Fitzgerald Campus and Mercy Philadelphia Campus of Mercy Catholic Medical Center.
His time there included stints as president of the medical staff, chief of the surgery department, and director of the general surgery residency program.
Dr. Gostigian was kind and compassionate with his patients and colleagues, always finding time to help others, said Orlando A. Castillo, a surgeon at the health system who first learned from Dr. Gostigian as a resident and later worked with him side by side.
“He was a gentleman,” Castillo said, recalling a quiet, humble man who never lost sight of the humanity in his work. “The way he used to honor everybody was unbelievable.”
Dr. Gostigian’s oldest son, John, remembered his father as a hard worker who would wake up at 5 every morning and, after downing a coffee and squeezing orange juice for his wife, head to the hospital. Once there, Castillo said, his first stop was always the chapel “to pray to have a good day with his patients and to help him to heal people.”
That dedication to his patients carried over to the rest of his life, said Dr. Gostigian’s sister, Jeanette, who remembered a time he turned around one Christmas while driving the family to her house in Northeast Philadelphia.
“He said he needed to be close to the hospital in case he was needed,” she wrote in an email. As disappointed as the kids doubtless were, she said, “it was more important to him to be available should he be needed.”
That dedication is why Dr. Gostigian ended up traveling, his son said — because if he went on vacation anywhere locally, he would inevitably end up checking in on a patient. So instead, the family traveled the world, with trips to France, Canada, and the Bahamas.
On one of those trips, the family became stranded and Dr. Gostigian, helpless, vowed to learn to fly.
Soon, he was piling his family into a little yellow-and-white Cessna and flying them all over; often, they would go to the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Dr. Gostigian and his family made lifelong friends there, and when he realized medical care was lacking he began to bring medical supplies with him on these trips, to help the local doctors.
“He would fly the plane with all of us, and there were boxes in the back with our luggage — and bandages, and antiseptic, and surgical supplies,” his son recalled, laughing.
Dr. Gostigian also took up boating, taking his family up and down the coast in Big Doc, a “rinky-dink boat” he kept at the Shore, his son said.
He also loved sports, food, and golf, and was devoted to both his religion and philanthropy.
Dr. Gostigian’s sons followed those passions: John became a doctor; Michael, the middle child, is a three-time Olympian in modern pentathlon; James is a pilot.
“All three of us followed him in some way,” his eldest son said.
In addition to his sister and sons, Dr. Gostigian is survived by two nieces, a nephew, four grandchildren, and a great-grandson. His wife died earlier this year.
Memorial services will be private. At the couple’s wishes, the family plans to scatter their ashes, together, in the Bahamas.