Obituary: William J. Monsour / Founded medical center with brothers, fought over it
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William J. Monsour, the youngest and most temperamental of the four Syrian brothers who founded the now-abandoned Monsour Medical Center in Westmoreland County -- then feuded over control of that hospital for years -- died Monday. He was 84.
The former CEO and medical director at Monsour, which opened in Jeannette in 1952, was a licensed physician, and it was Dr. Monsour's bedside manner that often got him into trouble. Memorably, he once got into a wrestling match over a sledgehammer with former U.S. congressman Donald Bailey as the two quarrelled over access to a CAT scan machine at the hospital.
"He was a good guy to have as an ally," said Jeff Pavetti, former Jeannette mayor and county controller. "He wasn't the guy you wanted to have as an adversary. That was Bill Monsour."
As he knocked heads with colleagues and kin, Dr. Monsour also tussled with the law. In 1980, he was indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh for Medicare and Medicaid fraud, and a decade later he was accused of tax evasion by the IRS, which said he failed to report taxable income from investment properties during the late 1980s through 1993.
But when he wasn't feuding, he was fiercely advocating for his patients, for liberal and Democratic causes, and particularly for Arab-American causes. Dr. Monsour, who specialized in cardiology and was called "Dr. Bill" by patients, served on the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and, in 1982, offered hospital treatment to children injured in the Israeli siege of West Beirut.
"They are legendary for their generosity and compassion," wrote Gregory Orfalea, who interviewed the brothers for his book, "Before the Flames: A Quest for the History of Arab-Americans."
"Each brother has a different style: Robert is the patriarch; Roy, the tender, warm one; Howard, frank, insistent; and Bill, the passionate rebel."
"He was passionate about his beliefs," Mr. Pavetti said, "and certainly about the medical center that he founded."
Dr. Monsour and his brothers -- Robert and Howard, who still live in Westmoreland County, and Roy, who died in 2002 -- will be best remembered for their struggle for control of the hospital that bore the family name.
The "hospital" began in a house on Route 30, six beds in all. By 1958, the hospital had moved out of Robert Monsour's home and into a 60-bed building. Two years later, Dr. Monsour joined his brothers in running the hospital, which eventually grew to 233 beds.
It also grew progressively less profitable, and Monsour Medical Center operated under federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from 1980 to 1989, then again starting in 2001.
Those financial troubles led to various lawsuits over the hospital's numerous debts and over its ownership, particularly between Dr. Monsour and brother Howard, who owned a majority of the hospital's bonds. By the early 1990s, Dr. Monsour had been pushed out of his roles as CEO and medical director, but he still served as president of the Monsour Medical Foundation.
In 2006, the hospital closed for good after failing its inspections, which meant it was unable to renew accreditation. Today, it's a derelict fire hazard, containing biowaste and radioactive materials, and the city is trying to find ways to demolish the building.
The hospital's sad final years, and the financial troubles that ensnared both the medical center and Dr. Monsour, overshadow the family's incredible American success story -- four brothers, the sons of immigrants, all earned medical degrees, then built a major community hospital from scratch, employing thousands over the decades.
"Unprecedented," Mr. Pavetti said. "Couldn't happen in today's health care environment. It was a different time and place in the United States of America."
Dr. Monsour's list of professional accolades is long -- he was president of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Heart Association, among several other leadership appointments, and he won numerous awards for his medical work and humanitarian efforts.
In the late 1970s, he was also a publisher of the Jeannette News-Dispatch (which ceased publication in 1981), and the editorial pages reflected his Democratic politics during that time.
He is survived by his two brothers; his wife of 30 years, Maureen Kroll Monsour; daughters M. Lisa Houser of Ligonier, Yasmine Monsour of Santa Rosa, Calif., Dr. Sophia Monsour of Albany, N.Y., and Dr. Jill Constantine and Caroline Monsour, both of Jeannette; son William "Max" J. Monsour II of Jeannette; four grandchildren; and a great-grandson.
Friends and family will be received at St. Michael's Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, 1182 Ashland St. in Greensburg, from 7 to 9 p.m. today and 4 to 8 p.m. Friday. The funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the same church, with burial to follow at St. Clair Cemetery in Greensburg.
First Published January 10, 2013 10:37 am