Dr Monteiro was the first Dean of our Medical School, and my Dean for most of my years at St. John’s for all practical purposes, the only Dean I had.
He was more than a Dean, though. He was a warm, caring father figure, who dispensed wisdom sternly. He was my first mentor, who helped me grow up from a wise-ass Bombay lad to (pardon the hubris) a compassionate physician. A person who taught me that life was not always fair, but it was a great gift to be alive. Even when I felt I did not deserve the punishment he meted out (which unruly black sheep does?), I received instruction on personal, social development.
Dr. Monteiro, though the Dean, was intimate with all of us, partly of course because the size of each batch at St. John’s is small, but primarily I think because he saw himself as an educator in the classic sense of the term. As he told me once “I want to make sure you grow up to be a good physician and, more importantly (italics mine but emphasis his), a constructive and caring human being. I want to be proud of you as one of my students in all aspects of the term.” Well, Dr. Monteiro, I hope you were.
Dr. Monteiro was a primary mentor par excellence. He combined compassion with an understanding that one needed to be cruel to be kind. He demanded discipline with humor and a keen appreciation of the need to indulge youth. He understood the nuances of nurturing all under his care, to help them through the transition from youth to mature professional. He has taught me (as he has taught countless others, I have no doubt) lessons about life – about life in all its intricate glory as well as life from the unique perspective of a physician. He has taught me the importance of balancing personal ambition with the greater good, both at the individual, patient level and the larger societal level. He took me under his wing as a boy and released me as a man; critiqued my flaws without subjecting me to ridicule, and encouraged my abilities without needlessly stroking my ego.
My, my. A perfect Dean in our imperfect world? No, not really. There were times when I thought him obtuse, too engrossed in the greater good to care for the individual – we were, or so we believed, part of an elite group, a small group culled from the hordes that appeared for the entrance examination. Did we not merit special consideration? I believe now however that he sought to put us down from our self-constructed pedestals so that we may better appreciate those less fortunate. So, not a perfect Dean, but close, close enough for the cigar.
During my medical student days there were times when I thought Dr Monteiro was an insensitive, uncaring, and needlessly stern taskmaster. Age has mellowed me, but I don’t think it is the warm glow that time casts which makes me believe that he saw the wood for the trees, and culled when and where necessary. If I can be half the man and half the mentor Dr. Monteiro was, I believe I will have done well for myself. Thank you, Dr. Monteiro. I have no doubt you rest in peace.