OBITUARY

Francis Robicsek, MD, PhD

July 4, 1925April 3, 2020

Charlotte - Dr. Francis Robicsek, 94, passed away peacefully at his home on April 3, 2020 of natural causes. He was born on July 4, 1925 in Miskolc, Hungary and immigrated to Charlotte, NC in 1956 with his wife, also a physician, Lilly Robicsek. He was internationally known as an innovative, caring heart surgeon, who possessed a deep passion for the history, culture, and people of the world. Most importantly, he deeply loved his family and wanted to help others.

When he was 5 years old, he carried a doctor bag and wanted to be called “Doc”. Although an Eagle Scout, he regretted the only merit badge he did not complete was for life-saving. Already trained as a cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon in Budapest, he joined Dr. Paul Sanger in 1956. Following Dr. Sanger’s death, he dedicated the clinic to honor his partner. The Sanger Clinic quickly grew as a surgical practice and expanded to include cardiology. Over the next four decades, Dr. Robicsek personally operated on over 35,000 people, and developed new surgical tools and techniques still in use today. He built Charlotte’s first heart-lung machine in the 1950’s, introduced diagnostic cardiac catheterizations, and performed the first heart transplant in Charlotte in 1986.

In the early 1960’s he traveled extensively to Central and South America. In response to a request for medical assistance from Honduras following an earthquake in 1976, he went to help their medical community recover. Over the years, he established cardiac surgery there and in several other Central American countries. He became a renowned expert and author of several books on Mayan culture. The National Geographic Society credited him with the “ceramic codex theory” recognizing that the codex vases depicted illustrations like frames of a comic strip to describe lost Mayan stories.

Dr. Robicsek later worked with Guatemalan physicians to design facilities and train staff to perform heart surgery at Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala City. He brought more than fifty Guatemalan medical staff to Charlotte for training. For his efforts, the President of Guatemala awarded him the Order of the Quetzal, Guatemala’s highest honor. The relationships he formed during this period remained important throughout his life, and he always took great satisfaction in finding ways to help people in need who did not have access to care. He was dedicated to the idea of caring for all. In the 1960’s, Charlotte’s African American patients were treated separately at Good Samaritan Hospital. Since he couldn’t perform heart surgery there, he arranged to have them admitted to a special tuberculosis hospital where he practiced in Huntersville, even though they didn’t have TB. He was proud that he found ways to deliver the care that was needed. He established one of the first integrated medical practices in Charlotte.

He retired from surgery as Chairman of the Carolinas Heart Institute at age 75, but his career and passion for care did not end there. Utilizing his international experience and relationships, he was appointed Vice President for International Medical Outreach at Atrium Health. In this role, and concurrently as President of the not-for-profit Heineman Medical Outreach, Inc., he coordinated donations of medical equipment, services, and supplies to many hospitals and clinics in underserved areas throughout the world. He served in these roles until his death.

Dr. Robicsek was considered a Renaissance Man, with the ability to remember facts and details about history, art, literature, and geography. In addition to holding patents on many medical devices, he published and edited many medical and archeological books. He received numerous honorary doctorates in medicine, archeology, anthropology, and literature. He was an avid reader of detective and mystery thriller novels. He was known for telling many stories and a tremendous joke repertoire, which he insisted were all very good – “It’s a joke!”. He was a lover of classical music and considered all music after the 19th Century to be garbage, except for New Orleans Jazz. He was an avid patron of the arts and supporter of the Mint Museum. In his spare time, he wrote poetry and painted depictions of blood oxygenators, hearts, landscapes, and flowers.

No man was more devoted to his beloved family. Lilly, his wife of 67 years, supported him personally and professionally, and was a true and devoted partner to him. While not a typical father, there was never a moment that he would not have time for any of his children and grandchildren. His love for his family was unconditional.

Many thanks are given to his caregivers and colleagues at Atrium Health, who collaborated with him on his ongoing care over the years, as he was both patient and doctor to the end. Special gratitude is given to Drs. John Fedor, Jeko Madjerov, Eric Skipper and Geoffrey Rose, whose medical expertise helped care for him during the latter part of his life. His family is forever grateful to everyone at Atrium Health and Heineman who supported his passion to continue working every day until his passing and his dear friends who saw him regularly.

He is survived by his wife, Lilly Robicsek; son Steven Robicsek (Melissa Vu); daughter Susanne Robicsek; son John-Christopher Robicsek (Caroline Robicsek); daughter Frances Robicsek Furr (Charlie Furr); and grandchildren Lilly Robicsek, James Carlton Furr, Anna Robicsek, Frances Elizabeth “Liza” Furr, and Heidi Robicsek.

A private service will be held for the family, and a public service will be announced at a later date. He requested that he be buried in his surgical scrubs and his epitaph read “I never turned away a patient”.

In lieu of flowers, please send memorial contributions to the Heineman Medical Outreach, Inc., - Memorial Fund, 1001 Blythe Blvd., Ste. 604, Charlotte, NC 28203; online: www.heineman.org

Services

  • Services at this time will be Private. A Celebration of His Life will be held at a later date.

Memories

Francis Robicsek, MD, PhD

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robert schyberg

January 4, 2021

To the Sons and Daughters of Francis Robicsek my sincere condolences for the loss of your great father.
He must have been a great doctor and heart surgeon, everyone said so. But I only knew Francis in the jungles of Central America where he and I sent much time searching for everything to be found about the ancient Maya. In these places you get to know a man well. Civil wars and revolutions notwithstanding Francis applied his great scientific mind to solving questions about the ancient Maya. His collections of artifacts and photos (which are a priceless treasure unto themselves) tell only part of the role Francis played in advancing knowledge about his mysterious civilization.
In symposiums and other gatherings of the scientific community Francis would greatly agitate the greatest deans of Maya Science with his amazing presentations of ancient artifacts from his collections. No matter the grumblings of others, Francis would always lavish extensively on context and provenience. Francis would occasionally challenge even the greatest Maya scholars, assaulting their assumptions and conclusions on almost every archaeological and anthropological level. Eventually most learned not to regard Francis and merely an art collector.
Having seen and examined closely many of his most amazing finds, I can easily understand how the mainstream archaeologists and anthropologists of the world must have felt when Francis would make a new presentation. Complete and utter Envy !!! No archaeologist ever found stuff like Francis. None. And he did it time and time again. Francis worked hard to uncover and reveal the mysteries of ancient civilizations Central America and shared his knowledge with the contemporary Maya peoples living there today. And of course people trusted him with precious icons of their patrimony. I'm honored to be a friend of the great Mayanist, Francis Robicsek.
Robert Schyberg, Boothbay Maine 2020

Nita Evers

August 9, 2020

Doctor rubber check was a wonderful man and surgeon I work with him in Charlotte memorial from 1969 to 1979 he cared about his patients and wanted you to give them the best of care he was a inspiration to me and an honor to work with him I will never forget him my prayers and sympathy is with the family your family had an amazing husband and father along with him being the best surgeon ever God bless you and your family tiger

Timothy Re

April 30, 2020

He was one of the kindest human beings I ever met. My wife worked with him early on in her career at the Heart Center at Carolinas Medical Center in the early-mid 1990s. She was always in awe of his presence. We were invited to his home for an office party and being in our early 20's, my wife and I were amazed by the way that he joked around with us and led us to his study to see some carved "flying pigs" that he claimed flew in when he left the window open; at the same time he was dismissive of what he said were "just a bunch of old pots" that were decorating his office, only to discover them later on display at the Mint Museum. He was always one to joke and make others feel better about life. There will never be someone like him again to grace our presence. We will miss him dearly.

Oneita Williams

April 30, 2020

My condolences to the family of Dr. Robicsek. I met him while working in the Cardiac Catholic Lab, for Sanger Clinic, at then Carolinas Medical Center. He was always a joy to interact with. But he was also a very serious and very professional man. Staff would really get nervous in the Cath Lab office when he came by. I remember once having to transcribe a memo for him because no one in the office wanted to do it due to his strong ascent. It was a challenge but I was nominated to do it. He had a cup in his office with cats on it. I remember it was so comical. I will miss him but am grateful to have met him. He was a kind man who did not see color or race. May God bless his family.
Oneita L. Williams.

Ay Y

April 18, 2020

Dear Dr. Robicsek Family.
It is sad to hear the passing of Dr. Robisek.
I had to opportunity to meet him when I went to his office fix something. The walls were occupied with his accomplishment.

Psalms 34:18 says “Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.”
John 11:25, 26: “Jesus said to her: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life; and everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all. Do you believe this?’”
What strength and comfort we can draw from knowledge of the resurrection hope! And how glad we can be that our dead loved ones who are in God’s memory will awaken from the sleep of death to enjoy all the good things he has in store for those who love him!
May your memories bring you comfort.

Cathy Owens

April 16, 2020

The wonderful Dr. Francis Robicsek. In 1984 I was stricken with a deadly cardiovascular illness. I needed a second valve transplant At deaths door he gave me a second chance at life. This surgeon was amazing. He performed surgery by implanting a mechanical valve. I will always remember him calling me his miracle child. My heart is sadden to hear of his passing. I will cherish this memory forever. May God bless and comfort the hearts of his family.

Letty Castellanos

April 15, 2020

I have known Dr. Robicsek since 1960. I will never forget his kindness towards me while I worked at the clinic. He was always available to listen and offer help when needed. He was wonderful to work for but more than that, he was a dear friend. I was blessed to work at the Sanger Clinic. Over the years, I had the privilege of meeting his mother, wife and children, who treated me as family.
Dr. Robicsek was not only a brilliant surgeon, but he was a family man. He loved them well. I will miss him.

Bill Faircloth

April 14, 2020

I worked with Dr. Robicsek starting in 1973 with kidney transplants. I was part of the first heart transplant team in 1986. We did two hearts on the same patient in 24 hours. The patient survived for thirteen years following the transplant. Three years later CMC was the 32nd hospital to be approved as a Medicare transplant center. Dr. Robicsek told me that the first heart transplant was among his most memorable surgeries and it meant a lot to both of us. It was a great joy to work with him and the transplant team. My prayers are with the family.

Dora Myers

April 14, 2020

To the family of Dr Robicsek I send my sincere condolences. I had the pleasure of working at Charlotte Memorial Hospital with him. I worked as a secretary at that time. I remember when he would make his patient rounds, he would always want all his patient charts opened, turned to the progress notes and stacked in order on top of each other. I always tried to make sure they were just the way he wanted them because you would always want to make sure you stayed on his good side. Really though he was always very kind to me and I really appreciated it. I am sure he made a major impact on those who knew him and he will be dearly missed.

Carolyn B. Woods

April 12, 2020

My name is Carolyn Woods.Los Angeles ca. I had the pleasure to work with the wonderful Dr.inthe early 70’s at Charlotte Memorial Hospital.He was a very good surgeon.God Rest your soul. You ran the race sir.my deepest condolences to the family .May God give you His Peace and comfort you during your loss.

FROM THE FAMILY