STAFF, Robert and Virginia

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STAFF, Robert (1918-2001) and Virginia Staff (1923-2001), died tragically in a house fire at Avalon, Santa Catalina Island on October 21, 2001.



In the News~

Hundreds of people attended a community event to honor Avalon's Dr. Robert Staff. The event was held Monday night in front of the Avalon Hospital, which Dr. Staff founded. At 5 p.m. a bronze bust of Dr. Staff was revealed. The bust, which is located between the hospital and clinic entrances, was created by Avalon artist Tonya Novak. Dr. Staff also signed copies of his new book which chronicles Avalon's health care history. He was also given a plaque from the Avalon City Council: “You devoted the major portion of your life to the health care of Avalon's citizens and visitors with never a complaint or second thought,” the plaque beneath the bust reads. “House calls were second nature to you, genuinely caring for your fellow man was one of your strongest traits. May you reap the rewards of your past commitment to Islanders in your years of retirement and may you find genuine happiness in now giving your all to your family, who so generously shared you with the people.”


October 23, 2001 [LAT]: “Devoted Doctor Dies With Wife in Catalina Fire Tragedy: Robert Staff escaped the flames in his Avalon home but went back in for his mate of 53 years. Both perished. After fire broke out in his Santa Catalina Island home, Dr. Robert Staff made it out to the porch with the help of a neighbor. Staff, however, knew his wife was in a downstairs bedroom. Without hesitation, Staff, 83, who had spent decades as Catalina's only physician, hurried back inside, Sheriff's Deputy Burt Lyon said. But both Staff and his 78-year-old wife, Virginia, died in the fire. "That was very typical of who he was," said Lyon, who was the first officer on the scene Sunday morning. "He devoted his life to helping people. And he'd been married for 53 years and you never saw them apart." Staff, known to everyone on the island as Dr. Bob, was one of the last of Southern California's small-town doctors, a generalist who did everything and treated everyone. He performed surgery. He fixed broken bones. He made house calls. And he delivered babies. Staff, who retired last year, delivered about half of Avalon's residents, Lyon said. In fact, he delivered Lyon and several firefighters who responded to the fire. "He was a real gentle man and very passionate about the people in Avalon," Lyon said. "He didn't care about money. Some people who couldn't afford to pay him brought him fish or chickens or would just make him dinner." Staff moved to Catalina in 1955 after spending seven years as a doctor in Alaska, said his son, John, 47, of Sierra Madre. "He delivered me in Alaska and there was 9 feet of snow outside," John Staff said. "Catalina was my mom's choice. It was as far away from Alaska as possible. And my father always had a thing for small communities." For more than 20 years, Robert Staff was the island's only doctor. Sometimes he showed up for house calls on his bicycle. Sometimes he showed up wearing a bathing suit. But he always showed up when needed. One weekend afternoon, when Lyon was 5, he split his head open and his frantic mother called Dr. Bob. "He came right over to our house, picked me up and said to my mother: 'We'll be back in a little bit,' " Lyon said. "He took me to the clinic, which was closed. He opened it up, stitched me up and took me back home when he was done." Staff and his wife, who had five children, probably died of smoke inhalation, authorities said. The investigation is continuing, and the cause of the blaze has not been determined. Lyon said Staff's last words were: "I've got to go back in and get Ginny." Staff's son said he was not surprised. "He always called my mother his bride. Every time they went out on a weekend trip, he'd call it a second honeymoon," John Staff said. "They were very cute together. It's very hard to imagine either one on their own."”


October 26, 2001 [TI/Avalon]]: “Dr. Robert E. Staff and his wife Margaret Virginia Staff died in their home in Avalon early Sunday morning Oct. 21. Dr. Staff was born Feb. 4, 1918, in Brockton, Massachusetts and Virginia was born Jan. 20, 1923, in Staten Island, New York. He graduated from Brown University, obtained a master's degree in public health from M.I.T. and acquired his M.D. from Tufts Medical School. Dr. Staff served more than 50 years in the medical field in isolated areas, including six years in Alaska and he served as doctor for the Avalon community for more than 40 years. He was truly one of the last small-town doctors that regularly performed house calls. Dr. Bob was active in the Avalon Community Church, Lions Club, VFW, Senior Center, the Catalina Island Museum as a docent and was instrumental in the development of the Avalon Community Hospital. His interests included swimming, hiking, skiing, biking, fishing, gardening and staying active. Margaret Virginia was the fourth of 13 children. Ginny was a WWII Navy WAVE who was recently inducted, with Dr. Staff, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. While raising five children, she was active in the Avalon Community Church, sang in the choir, was a Woman's Club member, Girl Scout leader and active with the Avalon Senior Center. Ginny loved to tell stories, play the piano and spend time with family and friends. Bob and Ginny lived an active life and traveled extensively. They had a huge capacity to love and both Dr. Staff and Ginny were well known and loved by the community. They would have celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary on Nov. 1. They are survived by five children: Jan Harrison, June Wright, Nancy Donnelly, John Staff and Robin Schatan; eight grandchildren, Shane, Ben aNd Annika Wright; Jennifer and Christopher Donnelly; Lacey and Cady Staff; and Jake Schatan. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, October 27, at 11 a.m. in the Casino Theatre with a reception immediately following. Cards can be sent to the Staff family at P.O. Box 96, Avalon. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the Avalon Clinic and Hospital.”