IN Memoriam: CATHY C. WONG, M.D., '79
By Shari Rudavsky Boston Globe Correspondent May 13, 2004
Catherine Carole Wong, an emergency room physician and mother of three, never liked to make a
fuss about herself. At work, her thoughts were always on the patients. At home, she focused all her energy
on her children and husband.
"She was a very private person, almost the opposite of people who pump up their credentials," Daniel
P. Matthews said of his wife, who died May 9 of breast cancer at her Needham home. "She did not like to
be called doctor and did not like to have people know she was a doctor."
Dr. Wong, 54, did not hesitate to accept tasks normally relegated to the support staff, even if that
meant taking care of a patient's bedpan, said Joanne Pasquinelli, a nurse who worked with Dr. Wong at
the Faulkner Hospital over the last two years.
"That is something you don't see so often," Pasquinelli said.
Patients also loved her, her colleagues said. In the hectic emergency room, doctors don't often take
the time to know their patients. She did.
"You don't usually have a relationship with your patients beyond a couple of hours. Cathy would really
sit and talk with the patients," said Nicole Dwyer, a physician's assistant at the Faulkner. "She was
very involved with her patients, everything you would want in a doctor."
Quiet and shy, Dr. Wong could soothe even the most agitated patients who came through the emergency room
doors. "She had a very mild-mannered, calm demeanor," said Dr. Richard Larson, chief of Faulkner's emergency
department. "When patients come into the emergency department, they're often stressed. She had a way of
calming them down."
Born in Stockton, Calif., to a family of modest means, Dr. Wong won a scholarship that allowed her to
attend the University of California, Davis. She majored in zoology, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and went
on to medical school there.
After medical school, she accepted a fellowship in academic medicine at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital,
now Brigham and Women's Hospital. With her two large Russian wolfhounds, she hopped in her car and headed
When Dr. Wong arrived in Boston, she began house-hunting. She responded to an ad in the paper and reached
the person who was moving out. He couldn't help her, but she sounded so anxious that he persuaded his
friend, Matthews, to rent her a room.
The move proved a fortuitous one. The two fell in love, and Dr. Wong decided to stay in Massachusetts
as an emergency room doctor.
A longtime Needham resident, Dr. Wong also participated in town government along with her husband, a
selectman. She was a member of Town Meeting and the Democratic Town Committee.
"She was just very concerned about trying to make the world a better place for everybody," Matthews said.
"She wasn't so much interested in the socializing aspect of politics, but she was very interested in the
issues, what we should be doing."
For more than 20 years, Dr. Wong practiced emergency medicine in the Boston area, including 16 years
with the Choate-Symmes Hospitals group.
Skilled at the job, Dr. Wong clearly loved it as well, her colleagues said.
"Probably it was the gratification of being able to do something for patients almost instantaneously
in some cases suture a laceration or fix a broken arm," Larson said.
Even when she became ill with the recurrence of a cancer that first struck more than a decade ago, Dr.
Wong put her patients first.
Last summer when the chemotherapy took away her hair, she insisted on wearing a heavy wig despite the
heat. The nurses tried to persuade her to don a cooler surgical cap instead. She demurred, but not because
"She said, no, because it would frighten the patients. She didn't want to get anyone nervous that she
was sick," Pasquinelli said.
In addition to her husband, Dr. Wong leaves two sons, John and Joseph, both of Needham; and a daughter,
Mary, of Needham.
A memorial service was held at the Congregational Church of Needham.