Kind. Compassionate. Loving husband, father, brother, uncle, grandfather, and friend. The Bronx’s doctor. Fueled by Coca-Cola and ice cream. Bushy eye-browed with a wry wit. Short-tempered at times, especially in traffic. Always generous and ready to lend a helping hand. These are some of the ways to describe John Donald Cahill M.D. III, age 88, of Pelham and Rye, New York, who died at his home on September 30, 2023.
Born on March 24, 1935, John was the eldest of Dr. John and Genevieve (Campion) Cahill’s eight children. Raised in the Bronx with summers in Point Lookout, John went to Mount St. Michael’s High School, where he developed a love of learning and mediocre cross-country running skills. When it was time to go to college, John’s father said he could go anywhere as long as the subway fare cost less than a nickel. So John went to Fordham University and then to Georgetown Medical School. He had a near-photographic memory and could readily quote all manner of literature, prose, music, and medicine.
He met his first love, the late Elizabeth “Betsy” Stock Cahill, a Montessori teacher, at B. Altman’s department store in New York City. They raised their five children (John, Sara, Elizabeth, Mary, and James) in Pelham, New York. He loved spending time with family and friends, singing songs from “back in the day,” and devouring books. He was always available to help people. He stitched up wounded neighborhood kids on the kitchen table. He readily gave advice and medical care to all who needed it. He helped put his siblings through college and did what he could to give people a leg up in life. And he always showed up for people by listening and giving them his whole heart and mind.
If water was nearby, he was the first to jump in. He treasured time on the eastern shore of Maryland, crabbing, sailing, swimming, and “fixing” things with Gorilla Glue and duct tape. He relished a grilled cheese sandwich, eating at New York City’s Le Veau d’Or, a fine Bordeaux, and a well-told joke and story. He never forgot a birthday and obsessed for weeks to find the perfect gift. He seemed surgically connected to his phone, speaking almost daily with his siblings, children, and loved ones.
John was a family doctor in the truest sense and a superb diagnostician; making house calls, delivering babies, and caring for generations of families. He traveled by apartment rooftops when making house calls “to save time.” Many of his coworkers and patients became lifelong friends.
He was affiliated with several hospitals, including SUNY Health Science Center in Brooklyn, Westchester Square, and Albert Einstein. He was a member of the Celtic Medical Society, which honored the Cahill family with its Healers Award for contributions to Celtic ideals and adherence to the belief that the best way to judge society is how they care for the least privileged and most in need. He was an assistant clinical professor emeritus at Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Department of Family and Social Medicine, where he taught future healthcare providers to promote the health of underserved communities. Countless students accompanied him on hospital rounds and worked alongside him in his Bronx office. When asked what he would do if he won the lotto, he said he would run his medical practice for free.
He retired from medicine after a significant stroke at age 77. He spent months relearning how to walk and talk. Apart from an uncooperative left leg, he recovered fully. His family often joked that he had nine lives because he repeatedly bounced back from major health crises. For example, he once drove himself to “his” hospital in the Bronx while experiencing chest pains. When his colleagues confirmed he was having a heart attack, he said, “If I’m having a heart attack, I’m going to have it at Cornel Weil New York Hospital, not here.” And so he drove himself to New York Hospital and lived to tell the tale.
Time and again, he saw the best of the healthcare system and managed to navigate the worst of it. He once told his daughter that it took 3,000 years to get medicine working well for most people and 50 years for insurance companies to break it completely.
In retirement, he moved to the Osborn community in Rye, New York where he found friendship and the second love of his life, the late Betty Chateauvert, an artist. Betty once told John’s children, “Most men at the Osborn want a nurse or a purse. Your dad was different.” Indeed, he was. Together, they traveled, forged a tight-knit group of friends, gossiped about their “enemies” (aka unkind people), doted on children and grandchildren, and lived a vibrant life-intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually-with plenty of shenanigans in between. Many thanks to everyone at the Osborn who made his later years so joyful and those who cared for him at the end of his life, preserving his dignity and humanity.
John touched thousands of lives with his dedication, care, empathy, love of people and literature, and dry sense of humor. He is survived by his two sisters, Pat Fay and Cathleen Driscoll, five children, their spouses, and children: John Cahill IV (Rachel, John, and Claire), Sara Cahill (Alyx Hamlin-Cahill), Elizabeth Cahill (Robert, Anna, Leo, and Noah Babboni), Mary Cahill, and James Cahill (Mufridah Nolan). He is also survived by countless beloved friends from throughout his life, including classmates, students, colleagues, patients, neighbors, the Osborn, nieces, nephews, and friends of his children and siblings who became his friends. He is preceded in death by his wife Elizabeth “Betsy” Stock Cahill, his later love Betty Chateauvert, and siblings Kevin Cahill, Michael Cahill, Gerald “Gerry” Cahill, Moreen Carey, and Eileen Carey.
He has passed on so much to his loved ones: His generosity, curiosity, intellectual rigor, wit, and empathy were infectious. He showed us the meaning and happiness of dedicating your life to helping others and continuously learning. He taught us that you can eat ice cream before dinner “to save time” and that peppermint stick ice cream should be relished any time. He dubbed the day after Thanksgiving “pie for breakfast day.” He showed us how to take our work seriously, but not ourselves. And most of all, he showed us how to live life fully. We will miss him dearly.
A wake will be held at Pelham Funeral Home on October 5, 4 – 8 pm and mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Pelham, NY on October 6 at 10 am. Charitable donations may be made to Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Department of Family and Social Medicine.