It is with heavy hearts that our practice announces the sudden passing of our beloved retired partner, Dr. Peter A. Volpe. He was 84 years old when he died at UCSF on May 15, 2021.
Peter started his life journey on December 12, 1936, in Columbus, Ohio. He was interested in becoming a doctor as a teenager and was such an outstanding student that he was one of only three students admitted to the combined BS/MD program at the Ohio State University. He excelled in medical school where he graduated #1 in his class.
After serving in the Navy from 1962-64, he was recruited to the UCSF surgical residency program under the then new Chairman of Surgery, Dr. J. Englebert Dunphy. Peter’s recruitment to UCSF was due, in part, to the highest personal recommendation from Dr. Robert M. Zollinger, the famed Chairman of Surgery at Ohio State University. Peter thrived as a surgical resident at UCSF under Drs. Dunphy and F. W. Blaisdell.
After a year working at St. James Hospital in London with the renowned Dr. R. J. (Bill) Heald, Peter finished his surgical residency at UCSF with distinction in 1969. A year of fellowship in colon and rectal surgery at San Francisco General Hospital under the mentoring eyes of Dr. Robert Scarborough (President, ASCRS 1952, 1964) and Dr. Donald Gallagher (President, ASCRS 1979) cemented his desire to remain in San Francisco, joining the San Francisco Surgical Associates as a junior partner.
He solidified the practice’s reputation by always putting the patient’s well-being first, being inclusive, and being a good listener with compassion, humor, and humility. He quickly rose to the senior rank, and took over running the practice. In 1972, Peter was the first physician to perform colonoscopy in the San Francisco Bay Area and subsequently trained scores of gastroenterologists and surgeons on this new procedure.
He was pivotal in the subsequent recruitments of Dr. Thomas R. Russell (Executive Director, ACS 1999-2010), Dr. Yanek S. Y. Chiu, Dr. Michael E. Abel, Dr. Laurence F. Yee, Dr. Michelle L Li, Dr. T. Phillip Chung, and (indirectly) Dr. Vanessa A. Talbott. When Dr. Volpe was asked how he was able to be trained by so many world famous surgeons, he stated modestly, “It is not who you know in life, but who knows you!”
Nationally, Peter rose to the very top. He applied his leadership and administrative skills to the American College of Surgeons (Governor), the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (President, 1988), and American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (President, 1990). He became a master at posing pointed oral board questions to terrified colon and rectal surgical fellowship candidates; many of these questions are still used today. We are all proud of his rousing 1990 Presidential speech, continuously referred to and often quoted even three decades later. “Shelters for the homeless should be improved, meals for the hungry purchased. I would very much like to see us help some of the newest group of refugees in this country, homeless children and homeless families. We cannot solve all social problems occurring in our society, but we can, and should, make a dent. You will be proud of that”. Dr. Volpe’s inclusive and humanitarian spirit remains a backbone of our practice philosophy.
Closer to home, he was a mentor to countless numbers of surgical residents at UCSF, and retired with the title of Emeritus Clinical Professor of Surgery. He maintained close ties with his friends through the UCSF Naffziger Surgical Society and the San Francisco Surgical Society. He was an attentive and affectionate father to his three sons, John, Mike, and Mark and was totally devoted to his loving wife, Theresa.
We will miss Peter’s honesty and fairness, his keen sense of humor, his leadership and caring words for all of us, his passion for his Lionel train collection, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Ohio State football team, and his uncanny ability to get out of difficult surgical dilemmas with his good judgment and technical savvy. He has been a wonderful role model for all of us and a beacon of hope and healing for all of our patients in the San Francisco Bay Area. We will miss him dearly.
Yanek S. Y. Chiu, MD (retired)
Michael E. Abel, MD
Laurence F. Yee, MD
Michelle L. Li, MD
T. Philip Chung, MD
Vanessa A. Talbott, MD