MIDDLETOWN – The numerous lives Joseph M. Kyrillos, M.D. touched over his decades of medical service in the Middletown community was reflected in the outpouring of love and affection at a Friday evening wake held for the longtime pediatrician.
It’s estimated that more than 500 local residents, colleagues, friends, family members and political leaders ventured to Thompson Memorial Home for the Dec. 7 service and countless others, including New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, attended a funeral the following morning, paying their respect to Kyrillos, who passed away in his sleep eight days before turning 90.
“He lived a full and fulfilling life, there’s no doubt about it,” said his son, former New Jersey State Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr. in a Dec. 11 interview with The Two River Times. “He had a great run and meant a great deal to many people. Our family was very moved to see so many people come out to pay their respects.”
Before entering the medical field, Kyrillos was raised in Byblos, Lebanon, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. After moving to Beirut, he graduated from College de la Sagesse before earning his medical degree from Saint Joseph University, Faculty of Medicine.
Kyrillos located to the United States to complete his residency in pediatrics at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark and settled in Middletown with his wife Marguerite.
The two married May 11, 1958 and Kyrillos became a prominent local pediatrician for more than 50 years, founding a private practice and later moving to the Medical Health Center of Middletown at 1270 Route 35. He treated patients from Middletown and other surrounding Two River-area communities. They had four children and nine grandchildren.
Kyrillos Jr. can recall with vivid detail the days of his father’s private practice within the family home and a policy that allowed visitors unprecedented access to the storied pediatrician.
“He had an office in the house and it didn’t matter what time of night, or if it was a Sunday morning, or Christmas morning, he was dutifully there for people,” Kyrillos said, noting one Christmas morning in particular when he and his siblings stopped opening gifts and waited until their father returned from helping a patient.
“He developed such a great reputation and so many people had a lot of affection for him because he was passionate about what he did and was always there to help.”
According to Kyrillos Jr., his father saw his final patient at 85 years of age.
Keyport resident Tara Martinez, 49, said Kyrillos treated her for asthma and she remembered many late nights her mother spent on the phone speaking to him. Kyrillos later treated her children, who are now 19 and 17 years old.
“When I took my kids to see him, I wanted to see if he remembered me,” Martinez said. “The minute he walked in the room he looked at me and knew my full name. It was over 20 years since I had last seen him. I can’t tell you how respected and trusted he was.”
Kyrillos Jr. described his father’s seven-day-a-week “phone hour,” in which he would take calls at the kitchen table from 8-10 a.m. and 9-10 a.m. on Sundays.
“He was speaking to worried parents about their children, talking them out of office visits so they could save time and money, and giving them advice and comforting solutions that they really needed, or at least needed to hear,” Kyrillos Jr. said.
As a state senator for 30 years, Kyrillos Jr. said he’s met thousands of people in his life of public service and said he wasn’t surprised by how many had stories of adoration about his father.
“I knew the tremendous reach of Dr. Kyrillos. He truly cared for people. He made a house call when they needed him. He took care of generations of the same family.”
In particular, he noted how giving his father was; when families couldn’t always afford medical care, the doctor would ease their minds and look the other way.
Kyrillos Jr. said it was a quality his father learned from his own father, a village doctor in Lebanon who was paid in chickens and produce when money was tight and, on some occasions, would place his own money under a sick patient who had fallen on hard times.
Despite how much he cared for others, photo collages and digital galleries on screens at Thompson Memorial Home in Red Bank displayed the incredible love and devotion Kyrillos reserved for his own family. They depicted the revered doctor with an ear-to-ear smile, beaming through decades with pride and joy, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, bouncing them on his lap and, years later, sharing a bloody mary with them during holiday gatherings.
“My father was strong, but a sweet, quiet man, who let his actions do the talking. He loved his family and he loved his community. And we’re all really going to miss him.” Kyrillos Jr. said.
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