Dr. John Rosario Scarfo, MD Physician and Surgeon
October 11, 1924 – November 12, 2020
It is with sadness that we announce the passing of John. John passed away peacefully on November 12, 2020, in Summerland, BC surrounded by his loving family. He will be missed by his family and many friends.
John was born in Vancouver, the tenth of twelve children. His parents were Italian immigrants who arrived in Canada in 1909. John’s father was killed in 1931, leaving his mother with ten children (ages 2-20) and no funds. The depression years were extremely lean for the family. John left school at the end of grade 8 to work and help support his family. He worked a variety of jobs which ranged from delivering groceries, farming, and working logging camps. John’s cultural custom, at the time, was to send home his pay to support his younger siblings and mother.
In 1946, conditions improved enough for John to return to school and obtain his grade 12 certificate and subsequently he enrolled in pre-med at UBC in September 1947. After two years, his funds were exhausted and it was necessary for John to work in order to continue with his education. He returned to university and was admitted to UBC Medical School in 1951 and able to continue his education. During this time, he was helped by many hands along the way that he greatly appreciated, including Dean Walter Gage of UBC, who often gave John money out of his own pocket allowing him to remain in medical school. He graduated with a medical degree in 1955. John met his first wife Kathy (née Catt) Scarfo and sailed off to work at the Canadian Consulate in London for three months and then to Rome to serve as the consulate doctor. They often said it was like a two year extended honeymoon.
John and Kathy returned to Canada and set up house in Surrey, BC. John served the growing community of Surrey for 30 plus years as a family doctor, Chief of Staff at Surrey Memorial Hospital, Chair of Credentialing and Psychiatry, and member of the Medical Advisory Committee. He was also a member of the Surrey Chamber of Commerce for 30 plus years and served two terms as director. John’s legacy will carry forward as he set up scholarships, bursaries and funding throughout his life to enable aspiring students to further their education, just as he was helped with his education from the Dean of UBC, Dr. Walter Gage.
Of note, John was instrumental in removing the archaic requirement that women desiring a tubal ligation had to undergo a psychiatric assessment by two psychiatrists. He received the Canadian Medical Association Silver Medal award for his contribution to psychiatry. In the early 1960’s, John was one of the first and few doctors in the Lower Mainland to perform vasectomies.
John was known for being easy to speak to and genuinely caring for everyone with whom he came into contact. John was a multifaceted man who was contributory in so many ways that affected the lives of multitudes of people. He practiced medicine in the years of house calls, middle of the night hospital emergency calls, and was often involved in patient care outside of the confines of his medical office.
John facilitated adoptions throughout his career. He was actively involved with women giving up babies for adoption, as well as parents seeking to adopt. He touched many lives in adoptions throughout his career. John and Kathy adopted six girls themselves, fondly known to many as ‘The Six Scarfo Sisters’.
John and his sisters Vera and Betty held the annual Christmas Eve family events, that enabled all the Italian relatives to bond and stay connected throughout the years. Christmas was an important season for John to pass on traditions to his daughters such as the making of Italian breadsticks and Italian pretzels, which they continue annually.
He was a well-rounded person that pursued many interests. He went on annual fishing and hunting trips with his colleagues, family, and friends as well as participated in sports activities such as badminton, tennis, skiing, and swimming. He started many of his workdays with an early morning run and in later life, enjoyed cycling. He was also involved with bridge groups and enjoyed square dancing with Kathy.
John famously took his three eldest daughters on a “father and son” trip because he never discriminated on the grounds of gender, ethnicity, or age throughout his life. He drove the family on memorable trips across Canada, throughout the United States, and many trips up to ski hills in their motorhome affectionally named ‘The Six Scarfo Sisters’. He later removed Scarfo because people would comment that it must be a singing group, but then it left people wondering if it was a group of nuns! John and Kathy travelled all over the world, but always loved to be at their family homes where everyone would travel to visit them.
John loved his family, friends, and relatives... of which he had many! The family home as well as the summer homes on Okanagan Lake were always overflowing with people and he always greeted everyone with the offer of wine and food. He was extremely proud of the Italian Room at the lake house in Summerland that housed over 400 bottles of wine at one time. John and Kathy took great pleasure in bottling many vintages themselves. He loved hot spicy food and seafood was a favorite, but he often said he was like a seagull... he loved everything! He remarked many times over these past years that he had lived a good and interesting life as he looked back and we all agreed with him.
John was married to Kathy Scarfo for 45 happy years until her passing in 2002. John remarried and is survived by Kay née Keen. John is also survived by two siblings: Vera (John - deceased) Oster and Millie (Frank-deceased) Bosco; children Gina (Brad), Karen (Matt), Tanya (Gil), Andrea, Allana, and Lara; and grandchildren Derek, Corey, Annalise, Johnathan, Emma, Doug, Maria, and Max.
In honour and memory of John you may make donations to Dr. John R Scarfo Bursary Fund at University of British Columbia (604-827-4111), John and Kathy Scarfo Bursary Fund with the Community Foundation of the South Okanagan, or Dean Walter Gage Fund at UBC.
John would also smile if you showed kindness and helped someone who required assistance in some way in his memory.
A Celebration of Life will be held in Spring 2021.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of John Rosario Scarfo, please visit our floral store.