Obituary: Dr. Mariano Jose Rey
Dr. Mariano Jose Rey, a former longtime Montclair resident who was born into a revolution and went on to become an advocate for the underserved, a respected cardiologist and a medical educator, died of complications from Parkinson’s disease on Feb. 19, 2022. He was 72.
Dr. Rey’s dedication to the care and education of others began through his own at times tumultuous early life. Born on the eve of the Cuban Revolution on July 22, 1949, in Havana to Mariano and Elvira Rey, he grew up surrounded by his very close extended family — exploring the countryside with his cousins, playing pranks on his uncles and sometimes facing “punishment” from his loving and much-loved grandmother.
With the onset of the revolution, in what would become known as the “Pedro Pan” exodus, he was sent by his family to find safety in the United States.
At age 12 he arrived in New York City to live with relatives; his parents and brother stayed behind. Despite knowing little English, he adapted and quickly distinguished himself as a leader and scholar.
For his immediate family, especially his brother, Rob, who arrived four years later, he became another father figure, teaching them what he had already learned of life in the United States. At school, the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in New York, he distinguished himself as the valedictorian of the class of 1968.
Dr. Rey then enrolled at Columbia University, where, in yet another turbulent environment, he honed his commitment to others. In addition to excelling academically, he was a leader in the student-community partnerships working for the rights of the people of Harlem and Morningside Heights.
Among other activities, he became the head of the student-run Community Service Council, working closely with local residents on tenant and squatters’ rights protests. It was there that he met Margaret Mary (Mona) Hennessy, a block association organizer, the love of his life and future wife.
After graduation from Columbia, he attended New York University School of Medicine, where he spent all of his training and professional life. He chose to pursue cardiology at NYU-Bellevue because of the exceptional care provided to all patients.
Dr. Rey’s first faculty job was as director of the Bellevue Adult Cardiology Clinic for Working Men and Women, the oldest specialty clinic in the U.S. He went on to found the Non-Invasive Cardiology Center at Bellevue Hospital and the Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Center at the NYU Rusk Institute.
His later years at NYU saw him establish and lead the Center for the Study of Asian American Health, essentially creating a new academic discipline to address the health of Asian American populations. Through collaboration with Asian American groups in New York, research studies led by Dr. Rey and his team changed the understanding of health issues affecting these populations. Significant findings were published in the 2009 groundbreaking textbook, “Asian American Communities and Health,” for which he was the senior editor.
In recognition of his work in this area, he received the Haven Emerson Lifetime Achievement Award for Engagement, Education and Research from the New York City Public Health Association in 2012.
In addition to his contributions as a physician and community health advocate, his other professional passion was teaching. Recognized on multiple occasions as Teacher of the Year, Dr. Rey taught courses directed at students in all four years of medical school training.
Because of his positive impact on students, he was appointed associate dean for student affairs (dean of medical students) in 2000, a position he held for seven years, during which time there were no academic failures at NYU School of Medicine.
Through his teaching and administrative work, he influenced the careers of well over a thousand physicians currently working around the country and world.
Though his professional impacts were far-reaching, his influence and care were most felt by his family and friends. After their time working together in housing rights, the couple were married in 1977 and shared the next 45 years as partners in love, empathy and commitment to others. They instilled those same values in their children, Kathleen, Christine and Michael, who pursued careers in medicine and teaching.
For his friends, no matter what he was working on, he was always ready to listen, talk and offer advice. His commitment to everyone was as clear on the individual level as it was to the communities he served.
After retirement, he and his wife moved to their long-loved second home on Martha’s Vineyard. Unfortunately, he was never able to make it back to his first home in Cuba.
Dr. Rey is survived by his loving wife, Mona; his children, Kathleen Caridad (Rob), Christine and Michael (Brielle); five grandchildren, Sophie, Lydia, Ryan, Eliza and Hannah; his brother, Rob (Jane), and his cousins and extended family. He is also survived by his two constant canine companions, Marti and Maceo, a pair of Havanese named after Cuban patriots.
A gathering of family, friends and colleagues will be held at Caggiano Memorial Home for Funerals from 3 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 23. Burial will be in Edgartown, Massachusetts.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Martha’s Vineyard Island Housing Trust or Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.