A beloved husband, father, grandfather, stepfather and friend, Dr. Peter M. Guida, died Wednesday in his Lloyd Harbor home while surrounded by loving family members. He was 88.
Peter was a young man in a hurry. Like many teenagers, he was obsessed with flying. Unlike many young men, he pursued his dream with single-minded intent, getting in a cockpit at the age of 16, flying a yellow Piper J-3 Cub out of Flushing Airport. He would fly his entire life; as a private pilot, he flew his own Beechcraft Bonanza at age 80.
Born on July 18, 1927 in New York City, Peter missed his high school graduation because he was “less than forthright” (as he put it) about his age and had a pre-induction interview with the local Navy Recruitment office at 125 Worth St. in lower Manhattan scheduled the same day. The Valedictorian of his class, he neglected to tell his mother of his plans. With his firm commitment to aviation and flying he said simply: “We were at war, and I knew I wanted to get the best spot as a Navy flier – I didn’t want to end up in the infantry."
Ultimately following the rules, he enlisted at age 17 and, under an accelerated wartime program, flew Grumman F6F Hellcats at age 18 off the aircraft carrier Essex in the South Pacific for the next two years.
His other love – on par with the first – was science, and medicine. As a Navy fighter pilot, whenever he had shore leave, instead of hitting the bars with his shipmates, he found the nearest university or library and listened to Chopin, or read books and went to art exhibits.
“Well, that’s what I enjoyed most,” he recalled.
After his discharge, Peter entered Long Island University under the G.I. Bill as a pre-med student on scholarship, gaining a top spot out of 1,200 applicants. He took five and a half years of pre-med training in two and a half years by going to school year-round and taking heavy course loads. His grades were straight A’s. Still a young man in a hurry.
Guided by his love of work, aviation and family, Peter made his way in the world.
After graduation with honors from Albany Medical College, he was admitted to the prestigious surgical resident training program at Weill Cornell Medical College and the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, in 1954. His work there was varied and exceptional. Focusing on cardiac surgery, his care, understanding and insight helped countless patients.
Peter’s innate talent, dedication and single minded focus did not go unnoticed. When he applied for admission to the College of Surgeons in 1966, Dr. Russell Patterson wrote: “Specifically, I would say [Peter] is a gentleman from the ground up. He has the best approach to patients, his confreres, and he is an excellent surgeon. These remarks are unqualified and based on my seeing his work almost daily for the last 12 years.”
Russell’s opinion of Peter was well founded. During his tenure at Weill Cornell, a career that spanned over half a century, Peter’s professional life had many firsts.
Peter was co-founder of the division of cardiac surgery in addition to designing a fine, successful rotating heart-lung disc oxygenator and electro-magnetic blood flowmeter to measure the effectiveness of cardiac, vascular and portocaval shunt procedures. He also founded the divisions of vascular surgery and thoracic surgery. He was certified by the American Board of Surgery, the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and more than 58 other medical societies.
He was also a Senior Flight Medical Examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration for over 35 years.
Rising to become associate professor of surgery and associate attending surgeon, he went on to serve on numerous committees of the medical center, many of which he presided as chairman. He performed over 20,000 major medical operations, and published numerous scientific papers.
Beloved and respected by his patients, peers and staff, Peter retired from the department of surgery in 2005, after being affiliated with New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center for more than 60 years of research and surgical care.
In his honor, the hospitals, together with Maurice R. Greenberg endowed the Greenberg-Starr University Professorship to honor Peter’s work.
On receiving the award, Peter was quite surprised, saying, “This honor is beyond anything I can imagine. This institution has been my life; it has supported and challenged me. I can never thank you enough.”
In recognition of his professional success and contributions to the medical community, Peter received the Horatio Alger Award in 1981. A man of faith, beginning when he served as an altar boy, he was inducted into the Knights of Malta in 1989. In addition, because of his outstanding work with cancer patients, Peter was inducted into the Royal Knights for Cancer Research in Ocala, Florida.
Peter was predeceased by his first wife Jennie Josephine Guida. He is survived by his wife of 37 years, Bernadette Castro; children Patricia Guida May and Peter M. Guida Jr., P.H.D.; stepchildren Terri Austin Keogh, David Austin, Jonathan Austin and Bernard Austin; two grandchildren; and eight step-grandchildren.
Visitation will be 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Friday at M.A. Connell Funeral Home (934 New York Ave., Huntington Station). A Mass of Christian burial will be concelebrated by Monsignor John Bennett and Monsignor Jim Vlaun on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Church (400 Main St., Huntington).
Memorial contributions can be made to Hospice Care Network, 99 Sunnyside Blvd., Woodbury, New York 11797.