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'Service above self': Remembering Dr. Horatio Cabasares, who died from COVID-19

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Service above self. That was the mantra of Dr. Horatio Cabasares, a surgeon from Perry, Ga. He died of COVID-19 just a little over a year ago.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

His son, Hubert Cabasares, says his father lived out that mantra until the end of his days.

HUBERT CABASARES: It was always to heal other people, whoever he touched and met and make sure that they were better off after they met him.

SHAPIRO: Known as Cabby, the doctor's journey to Perry, a town of only about 20,000 people in the heart of Georgia, began a continent away. He was born and raised in Leyte province in the Philippines.

CABASARES: He grew up in a poor family. They did not have much money. So, you know, getting education and, you know, sources for that were very limited. And luckily for him, he had, you know, friends and distant family that were able to help.

CHANG: Dr. Cabby immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s. He did his residency in Macon, Ga., a decision Hubert says his father considered carefully.

CABASARES: Macon, Ga., of course, is in the South. And at that time, you know, people of his, you know, background and upbringing were not too sure about living in the South, as you might expect. However, he felt it in his heart and, of course, you know, being a Christian, you know, prayed about it. And God told him, yeah, I think it's a good idea, and you should do it.

SHAPIRO: When it was time to choose where to set up his practice, Dr. Cabby had his heart set on the South and on Perry, a little town about half an hour down the road from Macon.

CABASARES: They very much welcomed him. And they just went against all of the expectations that somebody like my father would normally expect, which was, you know, a little bit of racism, you know, maybe some not-nice things happening. But that wasn't the case.

CHANG: Dr. Cabby was not just Perry's only general surgeon in town for over 20 years. He was also well-known throughout other area hospitals, and he was active in the Rotary Club of Perry and at his church, St. Patrick Catholic Church. But meeting him, you might never know he was so popular.

CABASARES: He was a very kind individual, very humble. He's not going to ever tell you, but he loved the attention. He was always smiling, and he was a small man with a gigantic persona. He was always willing to share ideas. He never prohibited himself, either, by not being himself. He would light up a room, literally.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Horatio Cabasares was 73 years old when he died of COVID-19 on December 16, 2020.

CHANG: If you would like us to memorialize a loved one you have lost to COVID-19 here in the U.S., find us on Twitter at @NPRATC. There's a pinned tweet right at the top.

(SOUNDBITE OF DESTRUMENTS' "BLUE STEEL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.