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Celebration of Life

Congregation Bet Haverim
Saturday August 10th, 2019

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Herbert Berkoff

Dr. Herbert Berkoff, former chief of Cardiothoracic surgery at the University of California at Davis Medical Center, passed away suddenly at home on June 17, 2019.  Dr. Berkoff is survived by his wife of 40 years, Vivienne Roseby, who loved him beyond reason, his children Karen, David, Noah and Sarah and grandchildren Zoey, Liam, Riley and Cooper.  Herb Berkoff grew up poor in an industrial and dangerous neighborhood of Buffalo, New York.  His father, Benjamin came from Belarus to escape pogroms and persecution.  Benjamin’s eight-year-old sister died on the journey.  Benjamin married Herb’s mother Rose, and they had three children, Herb was their youngest. He grew up in an apartment over their fish and poultry market, having to manage frightening and difficult chores; handling scaly fish, pecking chickens, and rats who didn't want to share the eggs that he was sent to collect.  When he was seven, the family moved to a street named Hurdle, that was like a green canopy of safety for him.  When he earned a scholarship to Columbia College, he gave up his dream of being a PE teacher, and set his sights on medical school.  Columbia was a hard and lonely existence where he often went hungry because his scholarship didn't provide for much extra, and the family had no money to spare.  He looked forward to scrambled eggs at the local drugstore several times a week, just to keep up the protein.  After medical school at NYU he ran a MASH unit in Vietnam, collaborating (illicitly) with a team of nuns to provide surgery to the local people in nearby villages.  He was tremendously proud of his work as a surgeon, as acting chief of Cardio-thoracic surgery and cardiac transplantation at the University of Wisconsin and as chief of Cardiothoracic surgery, founder and chief of Cardiac transplantation and Heart Center at UCDMC, and as a professor of surgery who trained many, many students, residents and surgical fellows.   But Dr. Berkoff was honestly just proud of his ability to help people to become healthy and whole.  Maybe this quality is best captured by his delight in the little son of a newly transplanted patient who asked him, when he made rounds at the hospital on Christmas morning, if he was Santa who had given his daddy a new heart.

He was always happiest when he was able to help other people.  After he retired from the medical center he taught at the medical school for a period of time, and was deeply valued there for the humanity and heart that he brought to his teaching.  Many friends have spoken about the wise, comforting and unobtrusive help he gladly offered whenever there was a medical crisis, difficulty or question.  Herb adored his family, and was inordinately proud of each of his children and grandchildren and how different and interesting they all are.  They, in turn, saw him as their quiet and steady rock, who taught them to walk to their own drumbeat (even though that often made him very nervous), the value of service, and a love of humanity.  He was also a large, gentle and constant presence to the children of family friends who saw him as someone they could count on to quietly love them and provide safe harbor.  He loved the family’s multiple pets who, if asked, would say they felt the same safe harbor and constant love.  He was hopelessly fond of gardening, grew at least 4 ripe strawberries each season, and could never bring himself to give up on any growing plant or tree, no matter how unproductive, old or wrongly placed it was.  Friends have all commented, with haunting uniformity, on his kindness, steadiness, gentleness and unassuming ways.  There are simply no words to describe the loss of this deeply beloved man.  His funeral will be held on August 9th at 1:30 p.m. at the Davis Cemetery, and his memorial will be held on August 10th at 2 p.m. at Congregation Bet Haverim in Davis.    Contributions to Doctors Without Borders, Planned Parenthood or the Southern Poverty Law Center would be gratefully received.

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Im saddened to learn of Dr. Berkoffs passing. I worked at UCDMC as his administrative assistant. I had much respect for him and thoroughly enjoyed working for him until his retirement. My condolences to his loving family. I remember him speaking fondly of all his family.

Suzanne Miranda Dec 21 2019 12:00 AM

I would like to thank Herbert for saving my life back in 1985. He flew to Madison to do a mitral valve and, aortic replacement surgery on a marfans patient. He was a wonderful man who had a good steady hand and, a sense of humor. I just wanted to thank him for being a good surgeon who extended my life. Just think of all the people he helped to live a longer life and, all the people he had affected. I was 25 when he did my surgery I, did have to have another one in 2010 but, I am still alive and well at 60. Thank you for the memory and, the gratitude to have of known you and, for saving my life.May god bless you for the lives you have saved in the years of being a wonderful surgeon. Thank you

tom vogel Oct 27 2019 12:00 AM

He was always HERBI to me. We built a tree house and go carts on Rugby Road in Buffalo. He was my cousin and I always loved him ,Seymour , Shirley,,Rose and Bennie. I was very sad to hear of his passing. Herb rest in peace. You were a very special person. Harvey Feinman San Diego Ca.

Harveyfeinman Aug 29 2019 12:00 AM

I'm now looking at a photo ofHerbie (no one ever called him Herbert) as a sophomore at Bennett High School. He was a year ahead of me and the picture is of the members of PAL, a high school fraternity out of the Jewish Center of Buffalo. It won't be surprising to anyone who knew him that he was already a leader even then. I was extremely happy to see that the caring and skilled person I knew in High School reached his potential and throughout his life continued to help people.May his memory be Blessed.Arnie Gross, Omer, Israel

Arnie Gross Jul 31 2019 12:00 AM

Sending our love and deepest sympathy. Bill & Susan Kelley

Jul 28 2019 12:00 AM

I worked with Dr Berkoff for many years at UCD when I was the manager of the cardiac surgery ICU. Not only was he an amazing physician but a great human being, who saved my sanity on many a day. Sincere sympathy to his wife and children ( whom he spoke of with such pride). We were very lucky to have known you

Karen Mondino Jul 16 2019 12:00 AM

We are a group of health care professionals who worked with Dr. Berkoff when he was the chairman of Cardiothoracic Surgery at University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison WI. We remember him fondly and send our sympathy to his wife and family. We have honored his memory by sending donations to Doctors Without Borders.Cindy Battista RN, Jake and Anna Young Perfusionists, Linda and Tom Coughlin RN's, Beverly Rast CST, Jim and Pat Cooksey Perfusionist, Tracey Kaltenberg RN.

Linda Coughlin Jul 13 2019 12:00 AM

I will be forever indebted to Herb as the surgeon who taught me how to do heart surgery. There are many methods by which one may pass on a skill. Entering into a technically demanding specialty performed with the highest stakes, I was fortunate to benefit from a teacher who had the patience and humor to allow me to navigate those treacherous waters. Thank you Herb, you leave this world a better place for having been here.

Barry Sheppard, MD Jun 29 2019 12:00 AM

Dr. Berkoff was a wonderful surgeon, great educator and just the best of human beings. I have always been so proud to have trained with him and try every day to be the surgeon he would be proud of training. My deepest sympathy for his wonderful family and I will see them when I come to join the celebration of his life in August. AJ Carpenter

A. J. Carpenter Jun 28 2019 12:00 AM

I am so sorry to hear this very sad news. I enjoyed working with Dr Berkoff in the OR at UCDMC. You always knew the patients were in very capable hands under his care. My sympathies to his family at this sad time.

Kim Betcher Jun 28 2019 12:00 AM