So sorry to learn yesterday of the death of Rockland County’s legendary physician, Dr. “Bobby” MacGuffie (inset, in a Journal News file photo), whom I profiled in Sunday’s paper. Before we chatted a couple of weeks ago, in what must have been one of her final interviews, I read the excellent book she co-wrote with Lynn Manzione. I recommend it highly, now as a way to remember her extraordinary life.
10 Things You Didn’t Know About Dr. Bobby MacGuffie:
Keith Rosario was ready to panic.
In 1994, he was in Zaire to help Rwandan refugees, and the woman responsible for his being there — New City’s Dr. Martha “Bobby” MacGuffie — was missing.
“There were gunshots going off all night long and relief workers being kidnapped left and right,” says Rosario, a Haverstraw police officer.
“The orphanage we were working with was running low on water,” he says. “We knew they were going to run out that day, and we knew that kids would die without water. Before the sun even rose, Dr. MacGuffie suddenly disappeared. We looked all over for her.”
As they were about to start a search party, they heard something.
“We step outside and there are military vehicles at our doorstep. And here comes Dr. MacGuffie,” he says. “She had walked across Goma to the other side of the city where the U.S. military was setting up a desalinization center. She walked right through their security, demanded to see the person in charge, spoke with a three-star general and explained our plight. Next thing you know, we had a convoy of tanker trucks and flatbeds with huge water bladders on the back.”
That’s Dr. Martha “Bobby” MacGuffie, Rosario says.
The 87-year-old Dr. MacGuffie retired in 2008 and has been slowed by Lyme disease, but her impact — in Rockland and across the globe — is unmistakable.
Chances are, if you have lived in Rockland County for any stretch of time, you have been operated on by Dr. MacGuffie, or know someone who has. (Full disclosure: She operated on my brother, Ed, once.)
For 50 years, the trailblazing doctor — the first female surgeon to graduate from Columbia Medical School — practiced plastic and reconstructive medicine at Nyack Hospital and at her home on South Mountain Road.
She started Nyack’s burn unit, endearing herself to Rockland’s firefighting fraternity.
She has received accolades aplenty, the latest of which was her December induction into the Rockland County Civil and Human Rights Hall of Fame.
MacGuffie’s remarkable life is chronicled in “A Wondrous Journey: A Small Book with Big Lessons” (2010, Two Harbors Press, $14.95), which she wrote with New City photographer Lynn Cluess Manzione.
It is a story of dreams realized, love, unfathomable loss and a life of dogged purpose.
MacGuffie, who prefers her childhood nickname “Bobby,” raised eight children. She lost two young sons to transfusion-related AIDS and their older brother to a spiral of alcohol and drugs brought on by their deaths.
MacGuffie decided to fight the disease that claimed her sons in the place where it had hit hardest.
In 1987, she and Nyack pediatrician Dr. Renee Brilliant founded SHARE — Society for Hospital and Resources Exchange — a nonprofit to help Kenyan AIDS orphans.
Here are 10 Things You Might Not Know about Dr. Martha “Bobby” MacGuffie:
1.She figures she treated 55,000 patients in her career.
2.She once gave a phony address to Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi.
After seeing MacGuffie holding a big check in a Kenyan newspaper photo, Moi summoned her to his palatial office and demanded that she give him $1.5 million. The doctor thought about the $600 she had in her savings account, then told Moi — and an assistant, who had demanded another $1 million — that she would have to go home and work on getting the money. When they asked for her home address, she gave them a phony one.
3.Faced with adversity, she was always more likely to roll up her sleeves than to throw up her hands.
“And my sleeves are long,” she jokes.
4.She has spent her life following her gut instinct, which she says hasn’t let her down.
“I usually just say it’s because I was born with a caul, a membrane that covers a newborn’s face like a veil. It’s an old wives’ tale that if you are born with a caul and the face is covered, you’re supposed to be able to predict the future. It’s surprising how it runs true.”
5.She collects unicorns.”They represent freedom of action,” she says.
6.For nearly 20 years, MacGuffie turned her South Mountain Road home into a haunted castle for “Scare Fair.”
The fundraiser for SHARE raised tens of thousands of dollars, much of it through the efforts of local high-school students.
7.She once owned a retired racehorse named Runaway.
Her property still has a menagerie of pets. “We have cats, dogs, mice, raccoons, opossums and always horses,” she says.
8.When she went to Zaire in 1994, she packed light but was sure to put peanut butter and jelly in her suitcase.
“It’s better to eat peanut butter from a spoon than go hungry,” she says.
9.She wears a bronzed 50-caliber bullet around her neck.
MacGuffie pulled the bullet from the hip of an 18-month-old Rwandan girl who was saved from her dead mother’s arms by Keith Rosario.
“We named her Boom-Boom, and she became a ray of sunshine in a place that was filled with darkness,” MacGuffie wrote in “A Wondrous Journey.”
10.She parlayed photos taken by Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn into a solar oven in Mbita, Kenya.
MacGuffie says her run-in with President Moi taught her you have to ask for what you want. Along the way, she asked for and received help from noted Rocklanders, including Burstyn, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Bill Murray and the late Helen Hayes.
To learn more about Dr. Martha “Bobby” MacGuffie, visit www.awondrousjourney.com and www.macguffiefoundation.org, where you can buy a copy of “A Wondrous Journey” and sign up to join a read-in and pledge drive to raise money for a scholarship in MacGuffie’s name. “A Wondrous Journey” is also available at Barnes & Noble and Pickwick Book Shop in Nyack.