Dr. Constantin Gref

Dr. Constantin Gref pe ultimul drum

Un distins reprezentant al comunitatii romanesti din Toronto ne-a parasit pentru totdeauna. Viata dumnealui a fost odiseea emigrantului roman, sortit sa-si paraseasca tara, in timpul regimului comunist, de trista amintire. Domnul Robert Smith prezinta, in necrologul sau, pe cel plecat intru Domnul, ca un exemplu de viata si daruire pentru familie si semeni.

When my father-in-law, Dr Constantin Gref, was born, in 1923, it must have seemed a time of bright hope. Greater Romania, including the provinces of Transylvania and Bessarabia, had emerged after the First World War (the War to End All Wars, as people then thought) as a constitutional monarchy with a democratic government.

But it was not to happen. The twin scourges of Facism and Communism were already arising in Europe and were destined deeply to affect the life of everyone – not least the lives of my parents-in-law – for the rest of the twentieth century. Their lives were lived against this backdrop.

My father-in-law was born in Bucharest with a twin sister. Sadly, she died when she was only 21, soon after having married.

Dr Gref was educated and qualified as a doctor in Bucharest. He began medical practice in 1946, directly after the Second World War. He quickly proved himself to be a truly exceptional doctor, entirely dedicated to his patients and, in turn, greatly loved by them.

At the beginning of his career he was sent to Ilisesti, in Bucovina, where he had to operate a rural medical practice in extremely difficult conditions, almost totally without equipment. He went there shortly after having married my mother-in-law, Virginia Gref. It was a challenging experience for both of them.

Dr Gref was a man of date co-incidences. He took a wife born in the same year and on the very same day as himself – almost a replacement, as it were, for his twin sister. His first daughter, Mihaela – my wife, was born on 29 February. It is a difficult feat to have a child born on 29 February: the opportunity only arises once every 4 years. His second daughter, Gabriela, was born on 6 April. There is a date co-incidence here too, because that is the same birthday as my mother’s. [To complete the symmetry, the late mother of Brian, Gabriela’s husband, was born on the same day, 29 February, as my wife Mihaela.]

My father-in-law was also man who had transport difficulties. When he went to Ilisesti at the start of his medical career, he inherited a horse from the doctor who had previously run the practice, a horse to enable him to do his medical rounds. Dr Gref was not experienced with horses and the horse had a mind of its own. From long practice, it knew the route it should take and where it should stop. And this revealed only too well the habits of the previous doctor. Having stopped, the horse would not move off again until my father-in-law had been inside the wayside establishment and had spent what the horse considered to be a proper time in there. Eventually, however, after a great deal of kindly and patient re-training the horse and Dr Gref came to see eye-to-eye.

My father-in-law was a reluctant motorist. When, in the mid-1960s, he became Director of the Sanatorium at Moroeni, he was more-or-less obliged to buy the car he inherited as Director of that establishment. This was a fearsome vehicle of Polish extraction, an ancient Varshava. To have a car was very necessary because Moroeni, as you might know, is located way up in the mountains, 25 kilometres up a narrow and winding earth track from the nearest paved road. The Varshava caused many problems and was, I think, a deeply scarring experience with all its inconvenient breakdowns.

Before Dr Gref became Director of the Moroeni Sanatorium, he was for 14 years a senior specialist at the Sanatorium in Sinaia. For a large part of that time he, his wife and their growing daughters lived in a house, built before the Second World War by Italian railway engineers, on the plateau somewhat outside to town. I myself much later visited the house. Despite all the difficulties, and they were very great, I sense that this period, in the late 1950s, may have been the best and most rewarding part of the family’s life together.

Dr Gref’s time of greatest medical achievement was perhaps as Director of the Moroeni Sanatorium. The Sanatorium was built with League of Nations funding in the 1930s for the cure of tuberculosis, and was the largest facility of its kind in that part of Europe. Tuberculosis was a deadly disease in many countries and my father-in-law played a major part in bringing it under control in Romania. The work of the Director of the Sanatorium was a really challenging task because it entailed, not only medical direction, but also the administrative task of keeping the whole community, the size of a small town but in a very isolated place, functioning properly.

In the 1970s, very much still in the Ceausescu era, both of Dr Gref’s daughters married Westerners, and Gabriela came here to Canada in 1974 and Mihaela, my own wife, to the U.K. in 1976. In 1979, Dr Gref and his wife were obliged to leave Romania, an outcome that neither they, nor we, had wished. They came first to us in the U.K., where they had to learn English from scratch, because neither of them had spoken English before. They travelled each day from our house in Cheltenham to Birmingham, a distance of about 50 miles. They made great friends with their teachers, and are still great friends with them. In 1980 they came to Canada, to Toronto. Dr Gref’s ambition was to practise again as a doctor, a profession to which, as I have said, he was completely dedicated. Through sheer hard effort, although in his late 50s, he was able to pass all the written examinations, even though they were in English, a language with which he had been completely unfamiliar just a year or two before. Unhappily, however, he was refused, on the grounds that he was too old to take up an internship. This was the greatest possible disappointment to him.

Dr and Mrs Gref have lived in Toronto for almost 25 years. For 19 of these they have lived in an apartment at the Hellenic Home in Winona Drive. They have seen their grandchildren Cedric and Andrea, living in Ottawa, grow from babies to the young adults they are today. Many summers they have come to us in the U.K., most recently in 2004, living in our house in Cheltenham, and have renewed the friendships they made when they first came in 1979. They have many good friends in England. They have twice been back to Romania to see family and friends, most recently in 1999. [Actually, three times, most recently in 2004.] They have seen Romania at last emerging from the shadow of Communism.

Dr Gref was an exceptional medical doctor, loved by his patients and most highly respected by his colleagues. He was a lover of poetry, music – he was an excellent violinist – and humour.


He will live in the hearts of his family – his wife Virginia, his wonderful daughters Mihaela and Gabriela, their fortunate husbands, his grandchildren Cedric and Andrea, and his many other relatives and friends here in Canada, in Romania and in the U.K.

7 November 2005

Pentru arhiva COMUNITATE apasati aici.

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