In tribute: Ex-POW becomes doctor

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

He was a medical doctor who took a personal interest in each of his patients, always strived to make the best of a bad situation, and had a deep love for knowledge and education.

That’s how family members described Clovis’ Michele de Maio, who died Nov. 4 from complications related to congestive heart failure. He was 89.

He was born on Feb. 9, 1915 in Cava dei Tierreni Salerno, Italy, and in 1939 graduated from Naples University with his medical degree, his wife, Ann de Maio said. When World War II broke out, he was drafted into the Italian armed services under King Umberto, the leader of the moderate faction in Italy. But in 1943 he was captured by the British in Tunisia and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Hereford, Texas.

“He always made the best of everything,” his wife said. “He had no contact with his family, and he just made the best of it.”

When Italy surrendered, Michele de Maio was released from the POW camp and given orders to enter the Italian unit of the United States Air Force in Los Angeles, where preparations were being made for an attack on Japan. They didn’t get the chance, however. America ended the war in 1945 and de Maio returned to Italy, his wife said.

But the land of his birth was in shambles by then, and he thought he’d have a better chance back in Los Angeles where he had spent upward of six months. He returned to America without a dime in his pocket, his son Vincent de Maio said.

“He had his knowledge and his faith, those were the two things he had when he came to the United States,” his son said. “And from that he built a fairly substantial practice.”
De Maio was often heard quoting the fabled mathematician of antiquity, Archimedes, with words spoken after Carthage was sacked by Rome:

“All that I have, I carry with me.”

When he arrived in Los Angeles, medical authorities told him he would need two years of medical classes to practice there, so he went to work for a bank. Then he learned the New Mexico Medical Board would recognize his Italian degree if he could pass the board exams. He passed the tests and came to Clovis in 1949 to set up what would become his successful medical practice, as well as an Angus beef business with the help of his new wife and her family farm, she said.

Over the years his practice continued to flourish, perhaps because of his willingness to make house calls in Clovis and the personal interest he took in each of his patients, she said.

A flu epidemic hit Clovis in the winter of 1952, and many of de Maio’s patients were sick at home due to overcrowded hospitals. Michele and Ann spent 12 hours Christmas day making house calls around town and attending to patients, she said. After visiting the home of good family friend Librado Casillas, they were invited to stay and share the Christmas feast.

The idea of a specialized doctor was a new one for Clovis in those days. De Maio was simply that: a specialized internal medicine doctor. He was at the hospital on a six-week stint, and a pregnant woman came in needing to have the child delivered. He said, “That is something I will not do, I have not delivered a baby since medical school,” his wife said.

An emergency room nurse said the woman could not wait, and besides, this would be her 10th child and shouldn’t be a problem. A general practitioner couldn’t be found in time, so de Maio agreed to deliver the child. Afterward, the mother named the child Michele in honor of the doctor. That was the first and last child he ever delivered in Clovis, his wife said.

De Maio contracted pneumonia a couple of years ago, and never really recovered, his wife said. After he died on Nov. 4 at his house, a stream of sympathy notes flowed in from friends and former patients, a testament to his personal compassion for those he served, his wife said.