Dr. Natalio Damien Sr. of Little Silver passed away on Jan. 19 at the age of 92 surrounded by those he loved.
Born in Santiago de Cuba on May 29, 1925 to Jose Damien Acra and Juana Hane Gobaira, Natalio was the youngest of eight children and the son of impoverished Lebanese immigrants. He grew up in prerevolutionary Cuba and was motivated by relatives to pursue a medical career.
He graduated in 1951 from the University of Havana medical school and moved to Nashville, Tennessee to complete his medical internship. He returned to Cuba where he rekindled his love for his future wife, Anita, and opened a medical clinic in Victoria de Las Tunas. He and Anita remained there raising their four children until the Cuban revolution uprooted their life.
In 1962, Anita and the four children departed for a Miami refugee center while Nat was detained in Cuba because he was a physician. He and several friends subsequently escaped Cuba in their third daring attempt by fleeing to Wolf Key in the Bahamas. A lighthouse keeper and the Bahamian Coast Guard assisted them in their escape.
After the family was reunited they moved to New Jersey where he began a residency in Pathology at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch. He was indefatigable in the pursuit of his medical license, specialty boards and career. In 1967 he and his partner, Aldo Baldi, reorganized the Pathology department at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank and formed the department at Bayshore Hospital, Holmdel. For 30 years Nat provided diagnosis and guidance to many surgeons and other physicians. He always maintained a wonderful wit and a strong sense of comradery with his fellow physicians and staff. He found great joy in the diagnosis and debate of rare medical illnesses. He would regularly review cases with fellow physicians and students. His pursuit of advanced studies and excellence in medicine provided great service to the medical community and patients. It also encouraged his children to pursue medicine and academics. In 1977, he became one of the very first subspecialty board certified dermatopathologists in New Jersey.
Nat opened his family to young nephews, Jose and Hugo, who had escaped Cuba without their parents. These cousins became brothers in the expanding family, but he also treated his many other nieces and nephews as if they also were his children. He was very proud of his three sons who became physicians and lawyers: Miguel, Natalio Jr. and Javier. In return these sons and nephews responded to his love and influence by excelling in their chosen fields. Nonetheless, the loss of his daughter Any to cancer in 1977 was the most distressing experience of his long life; however, he survived and thrived with the help of this extended family.
He continued with his regular golf foursomes at the Beacon Hill Country Club in Navesink after his retirement in 1992. He and Anita travelled regularly and entertained often in their home. They loved to visit friends in New Jersey as well as those in “little Cuba” in Florida. He truly connected with the experiences of his many friends and relatives. His frequent, “Que pasa?” really meant that he cared.
Nat is survived by his loving wife of 62 years, Anita. His four grandchildren, Natalie, Sabrina, Michael and Nicholas, and his three sons hope to continue his legacy for many years. His daughters-in-law Eve, Karen and Robyn continue to be a strong and supportive presence in the life of his family. He was predeceased by his daughter, Any, and his nephew, Jose, as well as by his many brothers and sisters.
He never complained about the many hardships in his life. He just fixed it. He never besmirched anyone. His easy laugh, great dancing, love of music and brilliant smile were shared with everyone. He reminded all of us that he was real; that he was here; and that he was ours, to love and enjoy until now.
We will miss his love, consideration, wit and energy forever.
Visitation was held at the Church of the Nativity, Fair Haven, on Jan. 27 with a Mass of Christian Burial following. Interment was at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Middletown. Please visit Nat’s memorial website available at johnedayfuneralhome.com.
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