Dr. Pedro Jose Greer Sr., a Miami physician and the first Hispanic president of the Dade Medical Association, was a man who had a “fierce sense of humor” his family remembers.
So much so, his grandson, Joey Greer, inspired by his grandpa’s wit, become a professional comedian.
“My father had a remarkable ability to tell stories and to tell jokes and was always gracious. He never would say a dirty word in front of a woman. With guys he had no problem,” his son, Dr. Pedro Jose “Joe” Greer Jr. said.
“Even as he began to lose his ability to speak, he still loved sharing his favorite jokes until the end,” the family said in tribute to a pioneering man of medicine, the patriarch to a family that included son Joe Jr., who, as director of Camillus Health Concern, was called Miami’s “hometown missionary” by the Miami Herald for his work in treating the homeless and needy.
The inspiration, Greer Sr., died Sunday at 87, surrounded by his family in Miami.
Greer Sr. was born poor. “Extreme poverty,” his son says, noting that his father was the first Greer to finish high school and college. So poor, a host of “How poor was he?” jokes could follow. Greer Sr. would lead them.
To put himself through medical school at the University of Havana, Greer Sr. worked at the Montmartre casino in Cuba in the 1950s.
“I became a croupier, so I had to work in a tuxedo. Then in the mornings, I would go to the hospital for medical classes. Everybody in the class thought I was a playboy. It wasn’t until the third year that they realized I was a croupier,” Greer Sr. said in a Father’s Day feature in the Miami Herald in 1999.
His son chuckles. “I have pictures of dad at the craps table studying his medical books. The girls thought he was a rich playboy because he’d show up to school in a tuxedo. He was the only one working his way through there.”
How poor was he? True story: Born in Pinar del Río, Cuba, on April 29, 1928, Greer Sr. didn’t get a birth certificate until he was 9 years old. “That’s how poor they were,” Greer Jr. says.
Greer Sr. was named for his father Joseph, a bilingual cab driver who was the son of an American serviceman. Joseph Pedro, the belated birth certificate read. At 7, he moved with the family to Havana, and in 1944, they moved to Miami. When his birth certificate was pulled in this country, the name was written as Pedro Jose. He figured he’d keep the name.
The irony: “With all of this, once he came to America in 1944, they called him Pedro. But all the Cubans in Cuba called him Joe,” his son says. For his 85th birthday, the family put both names on the cake. His son teased him: “We put both names on there because you didn’t figure it out until you were 16, anyway.”
The only cufflinks my father wore had a date on them — the date of his very first date with my mother.
Dr. Pedro Joseph Greer Jr. on his father Dr. Pedro Joseph Greer Sr.’s love of family
Greer Sr., who lived in Westchester his entire adult life, knew early on that he wanted a profession.
He graduated from Miami Jackson High School in 1946 and from the University of Miami, with a degree in biology, in 1950. He began his medical studies at the University of Havana and concluded them at La Universidad Automina de España in Madrid and trained at Jackson Memorial Hospital in internal medicine and gastroenterology.
“I worked my way through high school, college and medical school. My father, who used to be a taxi driver in Cuba, worked here as a laborer. My mother and sisters were seamstresses. I worked in the summer. I was a soda jerk and I sold milk products. I helped deliver mail. I worked for a diaper service, cleaning barrooms and as an usher in a theater,” he said in the Herald feature in 1999.
In the medical field, Greer Sr. was chief of staff at Miami’s former Cedars of Lebanon hospital, twice elected president of the Florida Society of Gastroenterology and was named president of the Dade Medical Association in 1974. In 1961, as Cuban doctors fled to Miami, he trained them to take their exams to become licensed in the U.S.
“I have known Dr. Greer Sr. as the kindest and most thoughtful of doctors, blending a lifetime of the best medical care with warmth and decency,” said David Lawrence Jr., retired publisher of the Miami Herald and chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida.
Father and son, Greer Sr. and Greer Jr., worked together for 22 years as gastroenterologists at Mercy Hospital. “If I can be half the doctor my father was I’ll be a successful doctor,” Greer Jr. says today.
Years ago, in 1999, the family patriarch said: “I enjoy life. I inherited being humorous from only one side of my family. My father's side was always so serious and blah.”
Greer Sr. is survived by his children Pedro Joseph Greer Jr. and Sally Greer; grandchildren Kevin, Kristen, Alana and Joey; and sisters Nery, Nora and Vivian. A viewing will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. Tuesdayat Funeraria Memorial Plan, 9800 SW 24th St., Westchester. A Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Timothy’s Catholic Church, 5400 SW 102 Ave., Miami. Donations can be made in Greer Sr.’s name to Florida International University’s College of Medicine for scholarships.