Thomas D. Rizzo, MD, Class of 1949
Physician & Orthopedic Surgeon
Former Member, Board of Trustees
Father of Five Prep Graduates
Thomas Dignan Rizzo was born in May of 1931 in New York City. He was the son Rose Dignan Rizzo, a homemaker who had worked as a millineress, and of Peter-Cyrus Rizzo, Jr., a physician, the son of Sicilian immigrants Giuseppina and Pierciro. Pierciro, or in English, Peter-Cyrus, had worked as a barber on Wall Street for many, many years.
Tom came into the world with a twin brother, Peter-Cyrus Rizzo III. The Rizzo boys spent part of their childhood in New Rochelle, New York until their father, who was an orthopedic surgeon, was transferred to Cambridge, Ohio, where he would run an orthopedic hospital for servicemen returning from the Second World War. The family returned to New York at the end of the boys’ freshman year. After a sophomore year spent at Brooklyn Prep, Thomas, along with his twin, would entere Fordham Prep in September of 1947 for the start of junior year.
During his time at Rose Hill, Rizzo was very much involved with the Knights of the Blessed Sacrament — he was grand knight during his senior year. He was a member of the Athletic Council, rigged microphones with the Radio Club and acted with the Dramatic Society. “Along with my uncle, Peter-Cyrus, he was in at least one theater production, The Inspector General.” Tom’s eldest son, Thomas, Jr., would note. “I think they played twins.”
Rizzo was also manager of the Aquarams during his two years at Hughes Hall. He graduated in 1949, in the same class as fellow member of the Hall of Honor, August Stellwag.
After leaving Fordham, Tom attended Georgetown. His Prep classmate James McQuade would head for Washington, DC as well. They and their families would remain friends for the rest their lives.
Rizzo graduated cum laude from both Georgetown University and Georgetown Medical School, and just about concurrently at that — he had been admitted to the Medical School before he had even finished his undergraduate work. He trained as an orthopedic surgeon at St. Vincent’s and at the Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled, better known today as the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. He served as a captain in the US Air Force from 1959 to 1961, and completed a fellowship at the Newington Hospital for Crippled Children.
By 1963, he had established himself in private practice. He was on staff at Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, New York where he remained until his retirement in 2009. At various points in his career, he also had appointments at St. John’s Riverside Hospital, Dobbs Ferry Hospital, Doctor’s Hospital and the Hospital for Special Surgery.
Along the way, Tom married Manhattanville College alumna Jean Kathryn Foley, sister of John Foley, Prep Class of 1948. Tom and Jean would raise five sons, Thomas, Jr., Peter, James, William and Francis, and a daughter, Kathryn. All five brothers would attended Fordham Prep, graduating in 1977, 1978, 1980, 1986 and 1987 respectively.
Rizzo served a six-year stint on the Fordham Prep Board of Trustees starting the year of his youngest son’s graduation. Having put five sons through Shea Hall, Rizzo certainly came to the Board with a deep insight into the ebb and flow of life at the Prep. Rizzo’s tenure on the Board was marked by care and concern for the future of the institution. When it came to his alma mater, Tom would prove unstinting with time and talent. In the simple, yet telling words of Thomas, Jr, “My father loved the Prep.”
Dr. Rizzo held memberships in numerous medical and academic organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the Georgetown University School of Medicine Board of Visitors, the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society and the Eastern Orthopedic Association. For 20 years, from 1963 to 1983, he was a clinical instructor in orthopedic surgery at Cornell University Medical College. He also served a term as president of the Westchester Medical Society.
A religious man and proud to the core of his Catholic roots, Tom was a veteran member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, as well as a member of the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and the Knights of Malta. He served as honorary usher and chief honorary usher at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, participating in the papal visits of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
When Tom Rizzo retired to Georgia, he was a member of the Georgia Orthopædic Society and was involved with the Coastal Medical Access Program for Southeastern Georgia, an organization which helps to improve health care access for uninsured members in the area. During the same time period, he served as medical director and a trustee of the International Seafarers' Center in Brunswick, Georgia, a home-away-from-home for the more than 12,000 mariners from 70 countries who stop in Brunswick each year. The Center provides medical care, phone cards, wireless access, clothing, books, Bibles, recreation and access to counselors and chaplains for hardworking men and women who spend long periods of time at sea, away from the comforts of home and family.
Dr. Rizzo was a recipient of the John Carroll Award at Georgetown University in 2004, which honors alumni of that institution whose lives and accomplishments “exemplify the ideals and traditions of Georgetown University and its founder, Archbishop John Carroll.”
In honor of his parents, Thomas helped to endow the Peter-Cyrus Rizzo and Rose Dignan Rizzo Chair in Orthopedic Surgery at Georgetown University School of Medicine and saw to the creation of the Rizzo Family Science Lab at St. Joseph’s School in Bronxville where his children attended grammar school.
Thomas Dignan Rizzo, MD died on All Souls Day in 2010. He was a brilliant man, a healer, a teacher and a man for others. He was a friend, a husband, a father and at the time of his passing, a grandfather many, many times over.
In 2013, the year of his induction in the Prep Hall of Honor, the Rizzo family legacy was still burning brightly at Fordham, with granddaughter Elizabeth Drew Rizzo, a member of the university’s Class of 2015, carrying the torch.