Former ringside physician dies


Dr. Donald Romeo liked to joke about the thousands of lives he touched by saying, "I took care of them from the womb to the tomb."

Doctors tend to have that kind of impact, and Romeo helped countless people during his time in Las Vegas.

Whether it was a boxer who needed attention in the ring, a Bishop Gorman running back who had turned an ankle or a Little Leaguer who had a hitch in his swing, "Doc" Romeo was there to lend a hand.

And it wasn't just people in sports whose lives he touched. He delivered thousands of babies and took care of them through his family practice, which he operated in Las Vegas from 1960 until a stroke forced him to retire in 1990.

Romeo died Sunday in Las Vegas after a lengthy illness. He was 85.

"Doc Romeo was the epitome of giving back," said longtime friend Dr. Flip Homansky. "This is where he lived, this is where he worked, this is where he raised his family, and it was all good."

If an athlete couldn't afford a physical to be eligible to compete, Romeo would take care of it free of charge.

"One of my favorite people," said Marc Ratner, who worked closely with Romeo when he served on the Nevada Athletic Commission. "He was a kind man and a great sports fan."

Romeo was Gorman's team doctor for 30 years. One special moment occurred in 1976 when four of his boys -- Tom, Dick, Donald Jr. and Mark -- suited up for the Gaels as members of the varsity football team. Donald Jr. and Mark were called up from the junior varsity and freshman team, respectively, to join their older brothers for one night.

"He was very proud when he saw that," said Chuck Gerber, who was Gorman's head coach from 1980 to 1987 and the school's athletic director from 1986 to 1998. "My brother Dave was the head coach then, and he thought it would be a nice way to say thank you to Doc for everything he did.''

Former Review-Journal sportswriter Royce Feour knew Romeo well. He said his passion for helping kids trumped everything else.

"He cared about people, and that made people care about him," Feour said. "Doc had a great love of kids. I never heard anyone say a bad word about him."

Born Dec. 6, 1923, in Pennsylvania, Romeo earned his medical degree from Loyola Chicago. He began his medical practice in Denver and eventually settled in Las Vegas. He and his wife, Barbara, were building a family that would grow to include 11 children.

"I was starting out as a football referee in 1967 and I was working a Pop Warner game that Doc was coaching in," Ratner said. "I called a penalty on his team and I went over to tell him who I called the penalty on.

"When I told him '64 Yellow,' he barked at me, 'Nobody calls my team yellow!' From that day on, I always said 'Gold,' even if the team was wearing yellow. I never forgot that."

Romeo worked all the big fights in Las Vegas, starting with the 1965 bout between Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson at the old Las Vegas Convention Center. He would be ringside for years, eventually stepping aside in 1990.

"He was more than a mentor," said Homansky, who was a ringside physician and later a commissioner. "I started in the boxing business in 1979, and Doc was already a legend. I got to learn from him not just how to examine a fighter, I learned ethics, work habits and respect for the sport."

Romeo was active outside of sports. He was a physician at the Clark County Detention Center and for the Union Pacific Railroad. He was on the board of directors for the California State Automobile Association and was on the city's Parks and Recreation Committee.

However, for all the good Romeo did in the community, he also had to deal with personal tragedy.

In 1973, his daughter Terry, then 16 and a junior at Gorman, was kidnapped after attending a graduation party, sexually assaulted and slain.

His son Stephen, a doctor, died in 2007 from a brain aneurysm. Barbara died in 2000.

A stroke in 1990 forced Romeo to retire from his boxing duties. In addition to his work for the NAC, he had served as a physician for the U.S. boxing team at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. In 2001, he was inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame.

But it was an honor he received in 2002 that might have been Romeo's biggest. The City of Las Vegas dedicated a park in his name at the intersection of Buffalo Drive and Cheyenne Avenue.

"That meant so much to him," his daughter Patty said. "He loved sports and working with kids, and it was a great honor to have a park named after him."

Romeo was at a rehabilitation and assisted care facility near the park when he died. He had heart and lung problems for a couple of months and had been at the facility for a week.

Romeo is survived by his children Marcy, Thomas, Michael, Patty, Richard, Donald Jr., Mark, Katie and Polly along with 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Visitation will be from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday at Christ The King Catholic Church, 4925 South Torrey Pines Drive. There will be a vigil beginning at 6 p.m.

Romeo's funeral Mass is 10 a.m. Saturday at Christ The King. Burial will follow at Palm Mortuary, 7600 South Eastern Avenue. In lieu of flowers, donations in Romeo's memory can be made to Bishop Gorman High School.

 

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