Obituary: Robert G. Monsour / Family physician, part of family that built Westmoreland hospital

April 6, 1916 - April 23, 2013

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Robert G. Monsour, an old-fashioned physician and the patriarch of a quartet of Syrian brothers who built the Monsour Medical Center in Westmoreland County, died on Tuesday at 97.

Dr. Monsour -- or "Dr. Bob" to friends, patients and customers of his weight-loss program -- died three months after the passing of his youngest brother, William J. Monsour.

Like his physician brothers, Dr. Monsour was a lifelong Westmoreland County resident, and treated thousands of his neighbors over six decades in medicine. His medical career began just after World War II ended, and -- as a measure of his longevity -- he was the first physician in Westmoreland County to administer penicillin, according to his family.

Born in Jeannette and a graduate of Jeannette High School, Dr. Monsour earned his undergraduate and medical degrees at the University of Pittsburgh, and followed those studies with an internship at the St. Francis Hospital and post-graduate work at Columbia University.

He then enlisted in the Army Medical Corps and, after an honorable discharge in 1946, opened his first medical office. With his brothers, and with help from his parents, in 1952 the family opened its six-bed "hospital" in a house on Route 30. By 1958, the hospital had moved out of Dr. Monsour's home and into a 60-bed building, and eventually, the hospital grew to 233 beds.

But he preferred the practice of medicine, rather than the business of it, which is one of the reasons he saw patients and made house calls into his early 90s.

"He was more of a primary care practitioner," said Marc Goldberg, CEO of Monsour from 1971 to 1975. "He didn't have the same level of interest in building the hospital and going through all of the administrative duties" as his brothers did.

That was particularly true as the hospital grew less profitable, and as the younger brothers -- often, William and Howard -- feuded over its control. Dr. Monsour, meanwhile, tried to act as peacemaker and sought to stay above the fray, away from the constant litigation, and out of the spotlight that the local media would sometimes shine on the hospital's operations and on the brothers who ran it.

"He was a true, true gentleman," Mr. Goldberg said. "He was a calming influence on all of them."

Starting in 1980 and for the next decade, the hospital operated under bankruptcy protection, and again filed for bankruptcy in 2001. In 2006, the hospital closed for good.

The hospital's financial and legal troubles overshadowed the success story of the four brothers, sons of immigrants, who all earned medical degrees.

"It was rare to have a hospital built and run by doctors," Dr. Monsour said a decade ago, after the death of his brother, Roy. And despite the years of troubles, patients had an affection for the hospital staff, and for the brothers who founded it.

"The Monsour brothers gave a lot to the Pittsburgh community, [via] their community hospital, and in many other ways," said writer Gregory Orfalea, who interviewed the brothers for his book, "Before the Flames: A Quest for the History of Arab-Americans."

Aside from medicine, Dr. Monsour was an avid golfer, and with at least one hole-in-one to his name, he was proud of his streak of having attended The Masters golf tournament every year for nearly 40 years, thanks to press credentials he received from the Latrobe Bulletin, according to his family.

Of the four brothers, Howard P. Monsour is the last surviving (Roy C. Monsour died in 2002, and William died in January). Dr. Monsour is also survived by his three sons, Robert D. of Murrysville, Roy C. of Ligonier and Geoffrey B. of Greensburg; and 10 grandchildren.

Interment services are scheduled for 11 a.m. today at St. Clair Cemetery, Greensburg.

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Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.


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