Dr. Gene Dorio | A Tribute to Dr. Cocco

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

Dr. John Cocco, a veteran and founding physician of Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, passed away on March 4, 2024.

He was born in Concord, Massachusetts, the site of the beginning of the American Revolution, Paul Revere’s ride, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond, and the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott. In and of itself, he was already in auspicious surroundings that would immensely affect his life.

Growing up broad and open-minded in the Concord environs, John Cocco attended Dartmouth College. He was offered a full scholarship to McGill University — known as “the Harvard of Canada” — where he enrolled in medical school in 1959.

Dr. Cocco’s dedication to his medical career was unwavering. After completing his internship at Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, he returned to serve the underprivileged at Albert Einstein University in the Bronx. But his calling was far greater. 

He volunteered and joined the United States Air Force, serving as a medical director at Tan Sun Nhut Air Base outside Saigon. There, he bravely rescued wounded soldiers on the battlefield and, in some cases, flew the critically injured to Japan.

After one year in Vietnam, the decorated Maj. John Cocco returned to the United States, married his high school sweetheart, Brenda, and moved to the Los Angeles Air Force Station in El Segundo for his last two years of military service. 

Looking for opportunities after discharge, the Santa Clarita Valley, with three hospitals, seemed like a beautiful place to start a family. Yes, there were three hospitals in this valley before Henry Mayo: Golden State Hospital (at the corner of Lyons Avenue and Wiley Canyon Road), Golden Valley Hospital (on the other side of the tracks from the bowling alley on Soledad Canyon Road), and Newhall Community Hospital (near Main and 6th streets).

Dr. John Cocco established his internal medicine practice in 1970. In addition to focusing on our elder senior population, he attended to many residents at LARC Ranch who needed assistance.

He and Brenda raised three children, and he spoke four languages. I would hear him constantly serenading hospital nurses and patients in the hallways with songs like “O Sole Mio.” 

Dr. Cocco was different from your typical doctor. Late at night in the hospital, I would see him sitting at his patient’s bedside, holding their hand. He provided empathy and sympathy in a way we have been engrained to see in a Marcus Welby physician, yet he still managed to provide state-of-the-art medical care to sustain those critically ill. 

Dr. Cocco and many hospital health care veterans were honored on stage when the Traveling Vietnam Wall came to Santa Clarita in October 2013. He comforted veteran nurse Dee Nance during that ceremony by holding her hand.

Dr. Cocco’s compassion and humanity served our community well. He was a gentleman from immigrants, earned a medical degree, served our nation in war, and cared for our poor, elderly and disabled.  He was indeed an American hero.

One day in the future, whether working at Henry Mayo or being cared for as a patient, you might feel a hand touching yours or hear the echoing sounds of “O Sole Mio” in the hallway.

It will be the spirit of Dr. John Cocco comforting your soul.

Dr. Gene Dorio


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