Dr. Joseph P. Rocchio, Jr., a colorful, quirky and irreverent pediatrician who seemed cut out for a practice in Greenwich Village, died on Jan. 2 at St. Vincents Hospital. The cause of death was lung cancer, which he had battled for the last two years. He was 58.
Fondly known to his patients as Dr. Joe or Doc Roc, Rocchio had his practice at 59 W. 12th St.
Physically, his office was very small, but he had a huge practice of 2,000, said Lisa Randelman, a Union Sq. mother whose two children, ages 7 and 9, were patients of Rocchios. Hes a Village fixture. Very funny, very dry, potty mouth.
His patients are now scrambling. Other pediatricians phones are ringing off the hook. I will find another pediatrician, thats fine, Randleman said. But he was a character. He was once in a lifetime.
Rocchio had visiting privileges at St. Vincents, where he would check on babies born to mothers whose children were his patients and would also come to see his patients when they were hospitalized.
His style was less Marcus Welby, M.D. than MASH meets MacDougal St. He never wore a white doctors coat, feeling it was too formal. Instead he was known to wear cool-looking pants and shirts, and was rumored to have 150 pairs of shoes. For a while, he dyed his hair blond.
Rocchio grew up in North Merrick, L.I., and received his medical degree from the University of Rome. In 1980, he bought the pediatric practice, then at 39 Fifth Ave., of Dr. Nicholas Pingitore. Soon thereafter, he moved into a new space nearby at 59 W. 12th St.
He was bizarre. He was outrageous. He was hysterical, recalled his sister, Lemoyne Rhoades, of Buffalo. But he was one of the warmest, most caring people youd ever want to meet. Six weeks ago, he gave a woman in Bigelows pharmacy $12 so she could buy a prescription. He gave her his card and told her, Pay me back when you can. Last week she came by the office to pay back the money. That story epitomizes how beautiful my brother was. He graciously paid for half of both my kids college education.
Rocchio lived in a townhouse on W. Ninth St. He had a partner, a portrait painter, who died of AIDS 10 years ago. However, he never came out to his mother, who would not have accepted his homosexuality, his sister said.
Nuri Diaz, Rocchios secretary for 11 years, said working for him was a unique experience, and a good one.
He was great, the best, Diaz said. Theres never going to be anyone like him. That was his life, his patients. If he was on vacation, planning a vacation, and something happened, one of his patients was in the hospital, he wouldnt go. If there was a kid in the hospital, hed go in the morning and night to check on him. He was always laughing, cursing not like in front of the kids. He was always fun and crazy.
Rocchio was also a heavy smoker, and would take cigarette breaks outside the office.
Diaz recalled that Rocchio loved purple and wrote all his charts and reports with one certain type of purple-ink pen. The seats in the waiting area are purple too. And there were the purple balloons Rocchio always gave out, printed with the slogan My Primary Caregivers Drive Dr. Joe Kookoo.
As for the message on the balloons, Diaz explained, It used to say My Mommies, and then the daddies complained. Then the nannies complained. Then the gays and lesbians. So he just put Primary Caregivers.
Diaz said Dr. Bob Felix, whom Rocchio had entrusted with his patients when his health made it impossible for him to work, may take over Rocchios practice. Diaz said she may continue on as his secretary.
Hes down to earth, Diaz said of Dr. Felix. Hes someone who Dr. Joe trusted while he was out on his medical leave
. I think a lot of his patients will stay.
Rocchio is survived by his sister and her two children and his mother, Mildred Rocchio. A memorial is planned for Feb. 11.