My dad passed away today at the age of 93.
Mustafa Oz was born October 4, 1925 in the poor farming village of Bozkir near Konya, Turkey. Although he participated in events that no one in his community — and few in his country — could have ever imagined, his heart never left this small town and he returned frequently to embrace the buildings that he built for future generations of students.
Mustafa earned scholarships at every level of his education, which reinforces the importance of supporting promising students who cannot afford education. After graduating CerrahPasha Medical School at the top of his class in 1950, he was accepted into the general residency in Western Reserve University residency in Cleveland, USA (where I was born in 1960) and cardiothoracic training at Emory University in Atlanta (where my sister Seval was born in 1961) before he began training other doctors in Wilmington, Delaware (where my other sister Nazlim was born in 1967).
His biggest accomplishment was marrying my mother Suna Yildiz Atabay in 1959 and learning to take her advice over a 60-year marriage. He moved back to his beloved Turkey and operated into his 80s at top hospitals in Istanbul including his beloved Florence Nightingale.
Dad changed everyone who met him. I remember as a child running behind his fast-moving legs while he made hospital rounds. Even as he aged and his legs no longer raced along, his mind never slowed down. I fell in love with medicine after witnessing my dad do sometimes painful procedures on desperately sick patients who subsequently thanked him for saving their lives. The opportunity to help is a powerful aphrodisiac and the responsibility to act should not be squandered, so he insisted that he and his children were "The Best," a contagious admonition.
Growing up in the Great Depression in a country whose baseline was poverty in the 1930’s, Dad knew how to overcome every obstacle that the last century threw at him. He would remind, nudge, push, remind again, whine, and yell, until he got what was needed. He crusaded frequently and rarely retreated, especially when he was told he was not good enough. Even when facing his life-ending kidney failure, he had the grit of a warrior and the temper of a tornado.
My father’s greatest hobby besides winning at backgammon was Turkish Folk music, especially the famous “Aslan Mustafam” or “Mustafa the Lion”. With his fingers snapping, my father would belt out the lyrics:
“Kenardan geçeyim yol sizin olsun birtanem aman, Ağular içeyim bal sizin olsun birtanem amanın Aslan Mustafam."
It roughly translates to: "I’ll pull over and let you have the road, I drink the bitter, so you have the honey, my one and only Lion Mustafa."
Dad, we are all one shoulder of the serpentine obstacle course that you weathered for over 93 years so you take the straight and wide boulevard to heaven that you earned for every minute of your hard fought life. Enjoy the sweet journey while we earn your respect by fighting the battles that mattered to you. Love from the entire family.