Dr. Santo Thomas Ruggieri, a Port Jefferson internist known for dispensing free treatment to clergy and members of religious orders, died April 30 in Mather Memorial Hospital in the North Shore village. He was 76.
The cause of death was complications following surgery to repair damage from radiation therapy, his family said.
Armed with a stethoscope and a keen diagnostic mind, Ruggieri visited Our Lady of Perpetual Help Convent in Sound Beach, an assisted-living facility for senior sisters of the Daughters of Wisdom, monthly for much of his career.
His style of treatment relied on conversation as much as lab work. "He knew the sisters well, and he took considerable time with them. He was the old-fashioned kind of doctor, and I say that in the most glorifying way," said Virginia Drews, a former convent nursing supervisor.
He was also known, Drews said, as "the doctor who would bring the doughnuts."
Ruggieri, who was raised in a tenement on Manhattan's Lower East Side and was the first in his family to attend college, considered his no-charge policy for members of religious orders a matter of fairness, said a son, Justin Ruggieri, of Tucson, Ariz.: "He would say, 'God gave me everything -- how can I charge him?' "
Ruggieri was born in Brooklyn. He graduated from Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park in 1954, served in the Marine Corps in Okinawa until being discharged as a corporal in 1957, and then attended Adelphi University in Garden City on the GI Bill, graduating in 1961.
He met his wife, Virginia (Gallagher), in 1962, when both worked at Kings County Medical Center, she as a nurse and he as an orderly.
A boast made while they were dating -- that one day he would become a doctor -- led to medical school at the University of Rome and New York Medical College, and finally to the solo practice of medicine in Miller Place in 1973.
"He loved being a doctor, absolutely loved it," Justin Ruggieri said. "For him, it was always about the diagnosis -- listening to people, learning their family history, their lifestyle, then using that to uncover what was wrong."
"It rejuvenated him," said his son. "It got him back to doing what he always loved to do."
In addition to his son, Ruggieri is survived by his wife, of Mount Sinai; daughters Susan Stein of Sherman, Conn., and Lisa Marrone of Austin, Texas; and sons Antonio of Mount Sinai and Luke of Mooresville, N.C.; and 15 grandchildren.
He was buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery, in Port Jefferson, after a funeral May 4 at nearby Infant Jesus Roman Catholic Church, where he was a member of the parish.
Donations may be made in his name at Hope House Ministries, 23 North Country Rd., Port Jefferson, NY 11777.