Obituary Published in San Francisco Chronicle on April 12, 2020
Dr. Rodolfo Solon Duterte passed peacefully at his home in San Francisco on April 6 in the company of loving family. His 104 years of life remained vibrant to the end.
Born on January 22, 1916 on the Philippine island of Cebu, he displayed an early excellence in academics that foreshadowed a future in which he would become, at 23, the youngest student ever to complete medical studies at the University of the Philippines and, eventually, a driving figure in medicine in California.
When Japan invaded the Philippines, the young doctor quickly enlisted in the Philippine Commonwealth Armed Forces. He was commissioned a 1st Lieutenant, Medical Officer. He served in Impalutao, Bukidnon, and Mindanao before being taken prisoner of war on May 10, 1942 and held until a general release of prisoners ten months later. He resumed his practice in Cebu and was honorably discharged from the service at the end of the war. In 1951, Dr. Duterte moved to San Francisco with his childhood-sweetheart wife, Martha O'Keefe, and the first four of their six children. Martha's sister, Annie, soon followed, as a second mom. In San Francisco, Dr. Duterte opened a private practice above the Disernia Drugstore on Mission at Precita and became a staff member at Mary's Help Hospital, later Seton Medical Center, Daly City.
An avid fan of the SF Giants, 49ers and Warriors, the doctor rarely missed a game. In 1972, he founded the Philippine Medical Society of Northern California and became its first president. The Society continues to provide scholarships to students and lead medical missions in the Philippines. A devout Catholic and generous philanthropist, he was a member and stalwart of the Knights of Columbus and supported many parish functions of both Star of the Sea and St. Monica.
In 2016, Dr. Duterte turned 100 in a large celebration at St. Francis Yacht Club, with a welcome by his son-in-law, the Commodore. In 2017, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his service in World War II and in the same year returned to the Philippines for a processional that ranged from the Malacanang Palace to his grammar school, Zapatera Elementary. He may well have been the oldest subscriber to The San Francisco Chronicle and certainly was among its most devoted readers.
Rodolfo Duterte and Martha (deceased in 2012) raised six children: Rodolfo Jr., Michael Angelo (Teresa Dion, deceased), Marie Young, Brendan (Ruth Vavuris), Patrick (Diane Gallagher) and Lourdes (Kimball Livingston). He is survived by grandchildren Kye, Justin, Allyson, Micheline, Danielle, Jeremy, Isaac, Johanna, Laurence, Andrew, Martha, Keefe, Erin, Yelena, Marcus, Shaylynn, Julia, Jon and 15 great grandchildren. A celebration of life is intended, when such things again become possible. But in truth, the friends and family of Rodolfo Duterte remember his entire life as a celebration. As one grandson put it, "He was a romantic for life."
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Philippine Medical Society of Northern California via their website: www.pmsnc.org/supportus
Reflections by Agnes Y. Alikpala, MD
I do not claim to be a close friend of Dr. Rodolfo S. Duterte. I met him and his wife shortly after joining PMSNC in 1982. I would never have guessed that he was the first president of this society, voted by a dozen or so physicians from the San Francisco Bay Area. He was never assertive, but always gave a thoughtful answer to any question presented to him. I would never have thought that he had such an impressive past as a volunteer in the Armed Forces of the Philippines after Pearl Harbor and a prisoner-of-war during the Japanese occupation. I would probably have asked him more about this part of his life that I am sure helped form the man that he turned out to be. I could have learned a lot, I am sure- during the few times I picked him up to attend an ad hoc PMSNC committee or to small social gatherings of Fil-Am physician friends from the Bay Area.
What I can say now is that I have always admired him- for being the ultimate gentleman: kind, caring, and always very professional. He identified with his countrymen, as evidenced by establishing his private practice in the heart of the Mission District; he also confessed that he preferred the filipino cuisine anytime, to the more trendy foods that abound in San Francisco. He never underestimated the power of a good image for the PMSNC, and he always gave the best counsel when sensitive issues arose in a society that has continued to grow bigger and more complex since its formation in 1972. He never boasted about his accomplishments. In 1939, he received his M.D. from the University of the Philippines at 23 years, the youngest at that time. He became the physician for the Filipino elite who migrated during Martial Law. He even seemed to be ill-at-ease when one raved about the spectacular view from his house. What also impressed me was the inner strength that became manifest with the unexpected loss of his wife.
I can only regret that I did not get to see him one more time. Dr. Mariano Rayos and I planned to visit him last January before his birthday, but planning for the PMSNC medical mission caused a postponement. After the Medical Mission, another barrier in the form of a novel virus made it impossible.
I am certain though, that he is in a better place now, and he knows that he is loved by his family and friends, and that the Philippine Medical Society of Northern California is better due to his leadership and example.