Robin West stood at the Heinz Memorial Chapel pulpit and admitted to the 450-plus gathered this would be the hardest speech she ever delivered. She served as the team physician for the World Series-winning Washington Nationals. She performed decades of surgeries to improve lives and prolong athletic careers. She presented talks around the globe.
But how best to eulogize Freddie H. Fu, a mentor, colleague, pre-eminent scholar, UPMC Sports Medicine founder, chair of the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, surgeon to thousands, friend to all, patron of the arts, lover of good food and wine and suits?
“I never met somebody with a heart so big that he could love so much,” West, a former UPMC orthopaedic surgeon, who as chair, directs Inova Sports Medicine in suburban Washington, D.C. “Dr. Fu, you have rocked our world, and we’re all better people for it.”
West was among a contingent of former colleagues, fellows, trainees and friends who, on a cloudless, football-fall afternoon on Oct. 1, gathered to celebrate his life.
Fu (MED ’77, ’82) died Sept. 24. He was 70.
A standing-room-only crowd caused another 100 or so to watch the service via livestream in Alumni Hall across Fifth Avenue. Some celebrants traveled from Europe and Asia to attend the 70-minute service, to pose afterward for a team photograph of Fu pupils in the Cathedral of Learning’s shadow, to revel in remembrances often mirthful. After all, this was a dynamo of a man known to send emails — ideas, photographs or merely check-ins — at any hour of the day, from any spot on the globe. This was the surgeon who started UPMC Sports Medicine from a garage, basically, and built it into a Western Pennsylvania staple in the South Side facility, since renamed the UPMC Freddie Fu Sports Medicine Center.
Fu authored more knee research than any other single scientist during his career and lectured in so many corners of the globe that he ultimately received the highest honors from orthopaedic societies on every continent except Antarctica — where there doesn’t seem to be many orthopods, if any.
Pitt Chancellor Emeritus Mark Nordenberg said a surgeon told him, “No orthopaedic surgeon on the face of the planet is better known than Freddie Fu.”
Fu’s effect on the sporting world was reflected near and far. Earlier in the week, Atlanta United player Josef Martinez became the fastest to score 100 goals in Major League Soccer history, but before converting that penalty kick, he looked to the sidelines in a moment of reflection — about the late doctor who mended his knee and elongated his career.
At Heinz Chapel at week’s end, former Pitt and Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Tony Siragusa paid his respects to the surgeon he telephoned just five months ago, asking if Fu could recommend someone to operate on his son, Villanova defensive back, Anthony Siragusa. “Bring him here tomorrow,” Fu told Siragusa, even though the offices were supposed to be closed that day.
Pitt’s athletic teams that same week donned “FF” emblems as a uniform memorial.
Daughter Joyce Fu recalled her late father’s style, how he walked her down the aisle at her wedding wearing a sequined tuxedo — the last time she was in Heinz Chapel before the service. “I think we all can agree, my dad expressed himself through clothing,” she said. In fact, many in the crowd — instead of the normal funereal gray or black apparel — wore smart blue suits and dresses, an homage to Fu’s sartorial splendor.
She echoed the sentiments of other speakers, how Fu spread the beliefs and educational mantra of his mentor, Albert Ferguson, in treating patients and people well — medically and emotionally. “Dr. Ferguson took a chance on him,” she recalled of the Hong Kong émigré who joined a brother at Dartmouth College, riding a ship to Seattle and driving the breadth of the United States to New Hampshire. “And he paid it forward.”
Timothy Ward (MED ’77) first met him after Fu transferred from Dartmouth to finish his clinical medical training at Pitt. Forty-six years later, they were still close friends and colleagues, Ward serving as his vice chair of pediatric orthopaedic surgery.
Ward remembered first meeting Fu “smiling and speaking a mile a minute in that cafeteria with a mouth full of food.”
“Let’s make no mistake, the candle will burn a little less brightly in Pittsburgh without Freddie,” Ward continued, his voice halting with emotion. “He is an irreplaceable part of our Pitt family, and we will miss you dearly. God bless you Freddie, and I look forward to having lunch with you again.”