But the shift from neighboring farm fields to next-door dwellings isn’t the only thing changing with the times at the Maiocco household. After more than a half-century of practicing medicine in East County, helping health care make the transition from house calls to hospitals, Maiocco has finally hung up his stethoscope.
“I didn’t want to retire, but the computer shot my legs out from under me,” said the 83-year-old Maiocco. His unique method of keeping hand-written records had served him well, but he admits it was simply “no longer appropriate for the times.”
But while bits and bytes might have been his downfall, they stand as perhaps the only thing he failed to master. Described as a “Renaissance man” by one of his dearest friends, the late Bill Bristow, Maiocco the athlete won Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in track at the 1951 Pan American Olympics. As an artist, his paintings earned him an exhibit at the San Francisco Art Festival. As a psychologist, he was schooled at New York’s Bellevue School of Medicine, and as a philosopher he spent a week at a Buddhist monastery in Shasta. During World War II, he took a month off of work to teach himself electronics and passed the Navy’s Radar program entrance exam with flying colors. He even owns a patent for a simplified system of music that clarifies the half-step progression represented by the black and white keys on a piano.
Maiocco says his lifelong yearning to learn stems from wandering away from his New York home and getting thoroughly lost at the age of 6. Rather than panic, he carefully reviewed his surroundings and how he had gotten there, and eventually made his way back.
“It turned out that finding my way home that day was a seminal life-changing experience because it taught me a fundamental lesson about the nature of knowledge acquisition,” Maiocco wrote in a recent magazine article. Studying many disciplines would also prove handy when he began practicing medicine in Brentwood in 1957.
Ensconced in a small office with doctors Abe Kaplan and Charles Duffy, Maiocco and his colleagues were forced by circumstances to treat virtually every kind of malady, as there was no other medical care for miles around. They needed to be versed in neurology, pediatrics, trauma and internal medicine. They delivered babies, set fractures, had to understand that a neck injury might actually be a stress-related condition, and even once treated a case of leprosy. Calls could come at any time – Maiocco and his little black bag once made 27 house calls on Thanksgiving – or even arrive on his doorstep.
“One time the doorbell rang and there was a man whose throat had been cut in a fight,” he recalled. “We had to integrate our families into what we did.”
Maiocco speaks proudly of his family, especially Carol his wife, whom he met in New York and for whom he took the long way home from school just for her company and a cup of hot chocolate. “I could not have done any of this without Carol,” he said. “She is the family glue.”
He’s also proud of his daughter Ruth, a championship swimmer in school and fearless sandlot football player who now lives in Escalon; and his son Robert, a national champion sprinter in college and a Stanford grad, now living in Florida.
He also maintains strong relationships with his friends, including Kaplan, with whom he has enjoyed breakfast every Tuesday for more than 40 years and plays tennis every week.
Professionally, however, Maiocco is proudest of having helped so many people for so long, and helped to usher in an era of modern health care in East County.
“We were pioneers; we were isolated,” he said. “There were no specialists around here then.” The isolation, however, also helped them become better doctors.
“We saw everything,” he said. “We had tremendous freedom because there was no one else.”
Maiocco’s contributions to area medicine go beyond his role as a country doctor. He was a founding father of Delta Memorial Hospital, ran immunization clinics, served on the County Mental Health Board and as chief of staff at Pittsburg Hospital. He worked as the first family practitioner in Brentwood for John Muir, helping bring the John Muir Medical Center to the city. A few years ago he joined Muir’s staff, and it was from Muir that he retired last month.
“When I was with Muir, I was in heaven,” he said. “They let me keep working on paper, gave me a wonderful nurse. I was able to continue concentrating on being a doctor.”
Kaplan said the community will miss Maiocco a great deal: “I think it’s a pity he’s retiring. The kind of doctoring he did is important. You talk to people, not a computer. People would wait two hours to see him and they didn’t mind, as long as they got to see him. It’s a real loss and it didn’t have to be.”
For his part, Maiocco said his only regret is that he hasn’t written a book about it all. He’d like to document his adventure through life, and he’d like to spread the word about the cure for the one thing that causes him the most pain.
“People have not found the fire of love to weld together the opposites of humankind, and therefore they continue to kill each other physically, emotionally, spiritually, even culturally,” he said. “The answer is always love. Find the friendly answer, and do what love tells you to do.”