AVON — “It’s not rocket science or brain surgery,” goes the line, when someone wants to dismiss a job as trivial or obvious.
Yet those were the very career choices facing Dr. George Hoke, according to his son, Martin.
“Dad was accepted to Cal Tech and considered nuclear physics,” Martin Hoke, a Lakewood attorney, said as he reflected on the life of his father, Lorain County’s first neurosurgeon, who died last week in Avon at age 87 surrounded by family, including his wife of 65 years, Laurie.
“It really was going to be either rocket science or brain surgery for him,” Hoke said with a laugh.
Thousands of area patients and their families are forever grateful the elder Hoke chose the latter.
George Hoke pursued his career with skill and care for 36 years until his retirement in 1991.
A 1942 Elyria High School graduate, Hoke was 29 when he established his solo practice in Lorain County in 1955 — the first neurosurgery practice in the county.
“It took a lot of courage to do that at a time when there were no neurosurgical practices between Cleveland and Detroit,” Martin Hoke said. “He had a force of character and a tremendous amount of self-confidence.”
Hoke’s single practice soon blossomed into a multi-physician practice.
Dr. Mario Sertich, who continues to practice at Neuro Spine Care as the practice is known today, described George Hoke as a pioneer in an era without benefit of MRIs and CAT scans.
“He was in practice for a couple of decades before those tools came into being,” Sertich said. “It required a whole different skill set and a totally different type of expertise that relied on very little (technological) information.”
Sertich called the practice of neurosurgery in the 1950s and 1960s an “art form compared to now when there is lots of imaging. Dr. Hoke and others had to be such astute clinicians. They were sensitive to very small clues.”
“It was an era that will never repeat itself,” Sertich said.
George Hoke also held the distinction at age 21 of being among the youngest graduates of the Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 1947.
George Hoke “never rushed” with patients or their families, Martin Hoke recalled. “He was old-school that way. There was that caring attitude.”
The time the elder Hoke spent with patients was not forgotten by grateful families over the years.
“People would speak of my dad with such positive warmth and gratitude,” Hoke said. “He touched so many lives.”
Sertich, who joined the practice in 1981, recalled the fatherly way in which Hoke took him in.
“My wife and I were just married, and they had us at their home for our very first Thanksgiving together,” Sertich said.
“It was those little touches that made it almost feel like I was joining my dad in practice,” Sertich said.
Martin Hoke described his father as serious and deliberate.
“He was an impeccably thoughtful person,” the younger Hoke said. “He had a huge intellect and was always thinking.”
Still, Hoke was no stuffed shirt, according to Sertich.
“He had an incredible sense of humor, an easy laugh and loved to make up limericks,” Sertich said.
“Here was this guy who always wore a bowtie and had gray hair, and he came up with limericks that were really salty,” Sertich said. “It was such an incredible contrast.”
Despite his reputation and position, Hoke never pulled rank, according to Sertich.
“He never minded coming in to operate at 2 in the morning and doing all those crazy things our lifestyle demands,” Sertich said. “He did that till he retired. He had a great work ethic. He was demanding on himself and others.”
Hoke was in very good health until a year ago when he developed heart problems, according to his son.
George Hoke’s life will be celebrated with a memorial concert at 6 p.m. Friday at Stocker Arts Center, where a generous donation to Lorain County Community College will be recognized with the renaming of the Stocker Theater as the George and Laurie Hoke Theatre.
“My dad and mom have always had a fundamental belief in the power of education to transform lives, and they also had a profound love and enjoyment of the arts,” Martin Hoke said.
“This (their monetary gift) was the perfect way to express both of those things.”
Hoke is survived by his wife, Amalia Viloria (nee Vasu), who was better known as Laurie, son Martin, of Lakewood, daughter Victoria Lane, of Tulsa, Okla., 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or email@example.com.