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Published: Saturday, 6/12/2004

Anatomist was hired as 1st MCO faculty member

Dr. Liberato J.A. DiDio, the Medical College of Ohio's first faculty member who went on to become an internationally known anatomist and the school's first dean of the graduate school, died Sunday in Sao Paulo from complications of pneumonia. He was 84.

Dr. Lydia DiDio Schafer, Dr. DiDio's daughter, who is an assistant professor of pathology at MCO, said her father had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, which is why, after his retirement from MCO, he joined the University of Santo Amaro in Sao Paulo in 1991. He served as that medical school's vice president until his death.

Colleagues called Dr. DiDio "the cornerstone" of the Medical College of Ohio, who quickly put the new institution on the international science map with his scholarly writing, teaching, and worldwide work in the field of anatomy.

"He was the foundation of many of the things that have happened here," said Dr. Amira Gohara, dean of MCO's school of medicine. "He dedicated himself to creating new knowledge through science, but he found his most enjoyment teaching and sharing that knowledge."

Dr. Gohara said Dr. DiDio's philosophy was to share his work with students who could go out and teach it to the rest of the world.

Dr. DiDio worked 24 years at MCO, serving as the first graduate school dean and the first chairman of the anatomy department as well as creating the school's body donation program. In 1979 he organized the International Symposium on the Morphological Sciences at MCO, bringing anatomists from 39 countries to the campus.

He was named anatomist of the year by the international symposium on three different occasions.

Dr. Didio's wife, Lydia, said her husband was working at Northwestern University School of Medicine when he was contacted by Dr. Glidden Brooks, the first president of the medical college, and joined MCO in 1967. She said the two men met while Dr. DiDio was a visiting professor at Harvard Medical School in 1961 and Dr. Brooks was teaching at Brown University.

"He liked the idea of coming to Toledo," said Mrs. DiDio. "I remember driving to Toledo in two cars. He drove down Arlington [Avenue] into the middle of a cornfield. He stopped and got out of the car and told us, 'This is going to be the future Harvard of the Midwest.'"

Mrs. DiDio said her husband was excited about MCO's many possibilities and was determined to make it a great medical institution.

"He had so many great ideas," Mrs. DiDio said. "He was very charming, intelligent, and entertaining. He could teach anything to anyone, and anyone would have been able to learn it from him."

Dr. Schafer remembered her father as "a person who believed you were never too old to get an education. He was revered internationally, and we would take these incredible trips around the world, bringing people anatomy.

"My father thought anatomy was the fundamental subject in relation to the human body. A lot of people think anatomy is cut and dried, and my father never believed that," she said.

Dr. Robert Axonovitz, an internist in Toledo and one of Dr. DiDio's former students, said his former mentor could energize students on various subjects, and the student body was aware of his stature in the worldwide medical community.

"I feel very fortunate, and I think Toledo is very fortunate to have had someone like him at MCO," Dr. Axonovitz said.

Dr. Gohara said one of the unique things about Dr. DiDio was that he never focused on his worldwide prominence or his standing at the medical college. He enjoyed meeting and talking to people on all levels.

"You would never know he was this well-known scientist by talking to him, because he always made you feel like you were the important one," Dr. Gohara said. "You could never get bored listening to [Dr. DiDio] because he could speak on so many different subjects. There was a very human side to him. He was warm, kind, and friendly. He was enthusiastic, energetic, and did everything with a passion."

Surviving are his wife, Lydia; daughter, Dr. Lydia DiDio Schafer; son, Dr. Arthur DiDio; brother, Renato DiDio; sister, Dulce Maclean; and two grandchildren.

Funeral services were held in Brazil. A memorial service for Dr. DiDio at MCO is pending.



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