Let’s celebrate and learn from the wonderful life of Dr. Joseph Woo who passed away recently at the age of 93. They truly don’t make them like that anymore.
I am fortunate to have known Dr. Woo through my years of work in Community Medical Foundation and saw how much he meant to the people he treated for more than 60 years and to Community, the hospital system he loved and served.
Early medical interest and Community connection
He is one of our “alumni” – born in 1924 at the Burnett Sanitarium, which later became the first Fresno Community Hospital.
As a boy, he showed an early interest in science and medicine. He once said, “It would upset my mother, but I would catch frogs and dissect them to learn more about their physiology.
I was the kid who was always taking care of my classmates, bandaging them if they got scraped or banged up.”
This son of Chinese immigrants, Dr. Woo worked his way up through medical school. He graduated from Fresno State, attended George Washington University Medical School, completed his Internal Medicine residency at Valley Medical Center and served in the Air Force as a medical officer during the Korean conflict.
He returned to Fresno and opened his practice with his brother-in-law, Dr. Eugene Lowe, in the physician office building on Fresno Street adjacent to today’s Terry’s House.
Pioneer in coronary care locally and nationally
In 1965, it was our Dr. Woo who established the first coronary care unit in the region, five beds at then Fresno Community Hospital. He said, “It was the first coronary care unit in the San Joaquin Valley, fourth in the state and 15th in the nation.”
Do you know that he and Mabel moved to a house on Huntington Boulevard just so he could be close if one of his heart patients came to the emergency department? He wanted to make sure he could get to a patient in need within four minutes. This is just one way he put his patients before family so many times. His wife Mabel understood this well since Dr. Woo often said, “Medicine is my vocation, avocation and passion.”
He watched medicine change from house calls to the high-tech era of CT scanners and cath labs. But even as medical advances were booming, Dr. Woo continued to make house calls until he retired from his practice in 2006.
Beloved by patients
The Honorable Robert H. Oliver, who served as a federal judge on the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno, wrote a few years ago this personal memory of Dr. Woo:
“Dr. Woo was my father’s physician for years. He was unfailing in his professional and personal caring attitude. I specifically recall Dr. Woo’s kindness to my dad and our family as he was recovering from bypass surgery. He took the time from his busy and hectic day to be both a doctor and caring man. I couldn’t help but reflect as I looked at the Dr. Woo picture with his well-used physician’s black bag that he indeed personifies the very best traits of a person privileged to serve as a medical doctor. In these busy and complex times, where the health care industry faces significant challenges, the example of Dr. Joseph Woo should serve as a beacon to all those privileged to serve others.”
Bold leadership to build a healthcare network
In 1972, Dr. Woo was named to the Fresno Community Hospital Board of Trustees and that launched his 20 some years of leadership and service to Community. Dr. Woo was a part of an elite group of pioneering physicians that guided Community Hospitals (CMC) – along with the likes of Leon S. Peters, Bud Richter, Joe Levy, Jim Mayer and Dr. John Morgan. These were the years of tremendous growth for our healthcare system, requiring strong leadership and decision-making in which Dr. Woo played a strong role.
He often talked about the bold decision they made to have Community purchase the property for Clovis Community way out in the middle of an orange grove when many were against it. It was his foresight and dedication that has resulted in what Community is today. Dr. Woo spoke of his fellow board members by saying,
“They were all able to think in terms of “little c” community and the ‘big C’ Community. We’re here to take care of people, regardless of their race, religion or financial status.”
Philanthropy that benefited so many
And his life of giving also was evident in his philanthropy, which began in 1965 when he donated to cardiology services and was so pleased to see the original CCU named in honor of Wong Sing Lee, his grandfather. Other areas he believed in and supported financially over the years included critical care nurse education, Leon S. Peters Rehabilitation Center, nurse oncology, Clovis campus expansion, more to cardiology (of course!) and to burn and trauma services at Community Regional.
It was in 2008, that Dr. Woo and Dr. Lowe, believing in the need to build Terry’s House, gifted their physician practice property to Community's Terry’s House. Families who come through those doors see how proudly we honor them by displaying their names above the entrance door for this most generous gift to the community.
Many of the Foundation, Communications and Terry’s House staff have fond memories of Dr. Woo's many visits to our offices. He would visit when in his late 80’s and ask us for help to learn every trick of how to best use his iPhone! He’d come to chat and relax in a chair at Terry’s House under some of his wife Mabel’s colorful paintings that he gave to the home.
He’d often park in our Eaton Flats parking lot for a short walk to the Ambulatory Care Clinics where he volunteered for hours still seeing patients in his retirement years. He’d be sure to see if they needed a new refrigerator for the staff lounge or if they had enough exam room supplies, and if so, he bought them what he thought they needed.
I can still hear him tell me, “Jan, I am picking up Dr. Masten this morning for the Cardiology Conference. Can’t miss that.”
He never stopped caring – about anyone. His energy fueled the spirit of Community and warmed the hearts of those who were lucky enough to be around him. He was such a gift to us.
There is not enough space here to even come close to chronicling the compelling history of Dr. Woo. I invite you to read his bio
as well as photos of Dr. Woo and his lovely wife of 70 years, Mabel.
If you'd like to honor Dr. Woo's memory with a gift of your own to Terry's House, please click here
By Jan Paul
Senior Development Officer
Community Medical Centers