Obituary: James T. Dattilo / Popular obstetrician from Mt. Lebanon

April 23, 1917 - May 22, 2009


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Dr. James T. Dattilo was such a considerate man that when awakened at night to deliver a baby, he'd leave his shoes off until he was ready to leave the house.

"We all had the same dogs, noisy little shelties," said his friend and longtime neighbor Shirley Bonello, wife of orthodontist Dr. J.J. Bonello of Mt. Lebanon. "He'd get up in the middle of the night and take his shoes off so he would not disturb the dogs so they would not disturb the neighbors. Even though he was on a very serious mission, he was considerate of others."

Dr. Dattilo, 92, of Mt. Lebanon, died Friday of natural causes.

His son, James A. Dattilo of Mt. Lebanon, said he drove his father home Thursday, the day before he died, to his more recent home in Friendship Village, Upper St. Clair. Even then, his father remained optimistic, despite being paralyzed along one side of his body from a stroke.

"He said to me, 'How blessed I am. How lucky I am. Look at this beautiful day,'" his son said. "He had irrepressible optimism about the joys in life."

Born in Fairmont, W.Va., Dr. Dattilo moved with his family to Pittsburgh when he was 8 and graduated from Dormont High School in 1934. In 1943, he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

While still in residency, he enlisted in the Navy the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. But before being shipped out, he eloped with his wife of 65 years, Winifred Appelbe Dattilo, who survives. She had served as a maid of honor at one of his classmate's weddings.

As a medic, he had to leap from one landing craft to the next during the Battle of Okinawa to treat wounded soldiers while also being responsible for recovering bodies from the ocean. He received a bronze star for his heroism.

When he returned home after the war, his first daughter, Mary Ann, already had been born.

Dr. Dattilo completed training in obstetrics and gynecology at the Geisinger Memorial Hospital in Danville, Montour County, and Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh in 1951. At Mercy, he became chief of its Department of Obstetrics and maintained a relationship with the hospital until his retirement in 1986.

Throughout his career, his medical firm arguably delivered more babies than any other in Pittsburgh. With many Catholic patients during the baby boom era, his firm delivered upward of 10,000 babies, his son James said.

Dr. Dattilo's seven children heard him repeat the phrase, "Aren't we lucky," so many times that it became something of a joke during their childhoods. But in time, the joke became an oft-repeated family philosophy.

"He meant it, and in his mind, he truly was lucky," his son James said.

Dr. Dattilo called everyone "honey," be it man, woman or child. He did not charge people who could not afford his services and typically had a friendly demeanor with people. As a result, people recognized and revered him.

When he traveled, he knew how to make friends.

"When he was in Ireland he would wear something Irish and chat with people in a pub and convince them he was Irish," said his daughter Jane Voigt of Upper St. Clair. "In Paris, he would put a beret on his head, and everyone thought he was a Frenchman. He always wore the cap of the nation he was in."

After retirement, he continued his interests in cooking, gardening, bridge, golf, watercolor painting, stained glass and rug weaving. He also served on the board of directors of Mount Mercy College and did volunteer work for the St. Vincent DePaul Society.

His eternal optimism was based on preparing for the worst, which produced optimism when the worst failed to happen.

"As a surgeon, he always thought of everything that could go wrong, and he prepared for everything," said his daughter, Mary Ann Gaul of Hingham, Mass. "People viewed my father as the most optimistic person on earth. His optimism was based in preparedness."

During retirement, he espoused a formula of having three activities to do inside, including crossword puzzles, and three outdoor activities. His watercolor paintings will be divided among 19 grandchildren. He also has 21 great-grandchildren.

"With his passing, the world is not quite as warm a place," his son James said.

In addition to his wife, son and daughters, he is survived by sons Thomas A. Dattilo, Dr. David J. Dattilo and Michael J. Dattilo, all of Pittsburgh, and Daniel E. Dattilo of Madison, N.J.; and one sister, Ann Marie Steliotes of Upper St. Clair.

A Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. today in St. Thomas More Church, Bethel Park, with private interment. The family suggests memorial contributions to St. Joseph's House of Hospitality, 1635 Bedford Ave., Pittsburgh 15219.


David Templeton can be reached at dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578.


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