I didn’t know him, but was inspired by the life story of Richard Fine, which I came across while reading his obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Dr. Fine grew up in Cincinnati, and was educated at Cornell — first the college in upstate New York, then the medical school in New York City. He moved to California in 1966 for medical training, and never left.
Like Zelig or Forrest Gump, he was seemingly ubiquitous at major historical events around that time: He volunteered to provide medical care at Altamont, where the Hell’s Angels, working as security for the Rolling Stones, killed a concert goer. He served as a physician to members of the Black Panthers, who were unable to get medical care in more traditional venues. He also ran a clinic for American Indians during the siege of Alcatraz from 1969-1971.
In addition to his medical leadership, he was widely known for his casual dress (bowling or mechanic’s shirts) and riding a motorcycle as his main form of conveyance.
He challenged the leadership of San Francisco General Hospital to provide care for the poor and uninsured, something we take for granted today but wasn’t at all a given when he was starting out. He was instrumental in helping start both a clinic and a residency program to train young doctors in the principles of social medicine — looking beyond the direct biological causes of illness to social causes, institutional discrimination, and beyond.
As you might imagine, he championed the cause of AIDS victims during the early part of the epidemic when other facilities would find excuses not to care for those infected with HIV. He also was known for improving the care of those jailed in San Francisco, making the case that incarcerated individuals still need care. When Type I diabetics were denied insulin and wound up hospitalized or dead, it made more sense for city supervisors to allow Dr. Fine and his trainees to develop better and more humane care plans for those in jail.
I was touched to read that Dr. Fine’s proteges at UCSF and San Francisco General Hospital were able to name their clinic in his honor. They announced that to him at the debut showing of a documentary film made about him last summer, so he was able to learn of the honor before his death due to cancer.