On Saturday, Steve Bernocco celebrated Saturday.
On Sunday, Northridge celebrated Stephen J. Bernocco MD.
On Monday, Steve Bernocco celebrated Monday.
Today, while the rest of us fume in a freeway jam, stew over an unpaid bill and cuss the stone that stubbed our toe, Steve Bernocco will transplant a few flowers into a sunnier spot, take a few laps in the pool, rub a few tummies (Bernocco has a Ph.D. in tummy rubbing), touch up a few stained-glass panels, deliver a few babies, have a few neighbors in for drinks, tell a few outrageous jokes, bestow a few Bernocco bear hugs. . . .
Why? Hey, man, it's Tuesday !
What could be better?
Toasting the Occasion
But back to Saturday. On Saturday, Bernocco broke open a couple of bottles of Moet et Chandon and toasted the occasion--Saturday--with his wife Georgia and a new friend. (To Bernocco, a new friend is just about anybody he's met five minutes ago.)
Bernocco toasted the past: a '30s childhood on the Jersey coast; a wacky tour of duty with the Navy in Cuba, where his two sons were born and where the medical facilities sported huge green crosses because they were fresh out of red paint; the time his pants fell down in the middle of a delicate Caesarean section. ("No big deal," Georgia said. "His pants are always falling down.")
He toasted the future: a trip back to Villanova for son Greg's graduation; maybe a quick visit to China; a dream he has, to work in a woefully understaffed clinic in a desolate area north of Port au Prince, Haiti.
Mostly, he toasted the present: "You couldn't ask for a nicer day, could you? Anyway, I couldn't. Except maybe tomorrow. . . . "
Tomorrow--Sunday--several hundred close friends and colleagues gathered at Northridge Hospital Medical Center to celebrate the man for whom the facility's Maternal and Child Health Pavilion will be named, when the hospital's new patient tower is completed.
'Remember the Time . . . ?'
It was a splendid, happy affair: balloons and buffet, champagne and schmooze. Shrimp as big as your fist. Son Stephen Jr. down from Stanford. A lobby full of grinning faces, each of which seemed to be saying, "Remember the time with Steve when we. . . . " Blazers and cocktail dresses impaled with big buttons reading "I (Valentine) Dr. (Teddy Bear) Nocco."
A lot of love, a lot of fun. Underneath it all, a singular honor.
Bernocco's cancer, his imminent death, had nothing to do with the tribute. His life has everything to do with it.
In a ceremony as short and sweet as Bernocco himself, David Chernof, former chief of staff, said the right things and concluded with a fond memory of one of Bernocco's legendary tummy rubs.
Bernocco said the right things and concluded with a fond memory of Miss Church, his third-grade teacher: "She called me in one day and said, 'Stephen, you're not going to make it scholastically. Why don't you become a plumber?' Well, here I am. . . . "
A pianist broke into "Come to the Cabaret." Glasses were refilled. Bernocco, who looks like a benign Don Rickles, rejoined his friends, working the crowd expertly, as only a man who loves people can.
Bernocco, 50, will never tell you why the pavilion is being named after him. What he's done, he figures, is nothing remarkable, nothing anybody else wouldn't have done.
Happily, a brochure published by the hospital staff fills in the gaps:
Villanova; Georgetown Medical School; the Cuba bit; obstetrics/gynecology residency at Penn. Off to the San Fernando Valley (Granada Medical Group) in 1967, then to Northridge, where his home became "a haven to people needing a friendly hand, a 'hotel without a license.' "
Help for Those in Need
"The free clinic he opened for victims of the 1971 Sylmar earthquake and continued to operate for four years for illegal aliens who needed medical care," the brochure continues. "The free medical care he continues to give to needy patients. The shelter he gave to his former neighbors from Granada Hills when they had to evacuate their homes because of the Van Norman Dam problem. The clothes he has given to almost total strangers. The arrangement to find child care for the children of his patients. The financial aid for a friend of his son who needed help to get through school. The money he has lent single friends who needed help qualifying to buy homes . . . "
It goes on, the brochure, and on, and nobody who knows Bernocco questions a word of it. Nobody but Bernocco. "I couldn't read it," he said Saturday. "I just scanned it. I figured if the cancer doesn't take me soon, how the hell am I going to live up to all that stuff?"
"Come on, now," said Georgia, a Jersey sweetheart he met over a game of kick the can, "that's just the half of it. What about the generosity? Steve would give away everything he had if he had the chance--his clothes, an artwork, the silver service. You know, if somebody came along and wanted me , I wouldn't be surprised if he gave me away."