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Five decades filled with dedication, doctoring

Julio C. Valdes specialized in family medicine, treating several generations of the same families in South Tampa.

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 10, 2003

BAYSHORE GARDENS -- Friends say Dr. Julio C. Valdes was one of those fortunate people whose profession is their passion.

"He really enjoyed the practice of medicine," said Henry V. Valenzuela, a former pharmaceutical salesperson and longtime friend. "He was a true healer."

For many South Tampa families, "going to the doctor" always meant going to see Dr. Valdes. He was part of a vanishing breed of physicians who specialized in family practice. It wasn't unusual for him to treat several generations of the same family.

Dr. Valdes grew up in Cuba, and got his medical degree from the Universidad de la Habana in 1943. He died Dec. 31 after a long illness.

In 1961, political upheavals in Cuba led Dr. Valdes to send his teenage son, Julio J. Valdes, to the United States. Young Julio remained in Miami without family, under the care of Catholic charity, for more than a year.

In 1962, Dr. Valdes and his wife, Oilda, finally managed to get out of Cuba. They reunited with their only son and moved to Tampa, to be near friends. Dr. Valdes worked at the old Hillsborough County Hospital and later set up his practice on Bay-to-Bay Boulevard, where he practiced until he retired in 1993.

"He was a man who worked all his life," his son said. "He worked until he was 79 years old, and cared deeply for his wife and family."

In more than 50 years in practice, Dr. Valdes never lost his passion for medicine. Even at the time of his retirement, he practiced and studied medicine with the same eagerness he had in his youth.

"He wasn't ready to quit," Valenzuela said. "He quit because he got ill. He was constantly reading medical journals, always trying to better himself, right up until the end. He always wanted to learn. He knew as much about the latest developments, the latest techniques, as any young doctor. He was one of the most intelligent persons I've ever met."

Although he was technically a family physician, and continued to treat families right up until his retirement, many people considered Dr. Valdes a gerontologist.

"He was a family doctor, but most of his patients were elderly," his son said. "It just worked out that way."

Dr. Valdes was the medical director for several local nursing homes, and was known for his special rapport with older patients.

"Whether they could pay or not, that wasn't what was important to him," Valenzuela said. "He always treated the elderly with respect and with dignity, and most of all, with love."

Besides medicine, Dr. Valdes' great passion was baseball. He prided himself on comprehensive knowledge of the game's history, but also kept up on the latest.

When he was on staff at the old Hillsborough County Hospital, and later St. Joseph's Hospital, Dr. Valdes' baseball expertise helped make him a favorite among his colleagues. He was often at the center of lively lunchtime conversations about the national pastime.

"He could tell you all statistics of the old players and the new ones," Valenzuela said.

Even though Dr. Valdes retired from medicine more than a decade ago, his legacy as healer of Tampa families lives on. Dr. Valdes' son is now a doctor, with a thriving pediatric practice on Armenia Avenue.

"He was definitely my inspiration to become a doctor," the younger Dr. Valdes said.

The family tradition of medicine will continue for at least one more generation. Dr. Valdes' two grandchildren -- Julio J. Valdes Jr. and Carmen Valdes -- recently graduated from medical school.

"It all began with him," Valenzuela said. "He was a role model for three generations."

To his patients and colleagues, Dr. Valdes was known as a consummate physician. But to his friends, he was primarily known as a consummate human being.

"There is one word to describe him, and that is gentleman," Valenzuela said. "And I mean that in two ways. He was a gentleman, and he was a gentle person."

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