I had the honor and pleasure of working with Dr. Masci as we implemented the Debre Birhan Hospital (DBH) program, which later became a flagship hospital for the Ethiopian Ministry of Health. Dr. Masci was an exceptional man dedicated to sharing his skills and knowledge with those who needed it. He was able to coordinate one of the American International Health Alliance´s (AIHA) long-lasting and successful programs in Ethiopia, where he contributed so that DBH is able to provide better care to its patients, particularly at the HIV/AIDS clinic.
We still talk about the amazing partnership we had with Elmhurst, and that was because of his leadership. We sincerely appreciate Dr. Masci’s contributions and dedication to the underprivileged and will be forever grateful to him and his team.
Country Director, Ethiopia
American International Health Alliance (AIHA)
I would like to share two memories of Joe, since I had known him since the sixth grade. The first memory is entertaining: In our senior year in high school, we all had health class, taught by the physical ed instructors. In those days, it was an all-male class. We were getting to the very end of the year, so we were all restless to graduate, and we were all a bit ornery. We each had an assignment to describe a disease and its known cures. Many of us "embellished" our reports, but Joe was the master. I can't remember which disease he had as the assignment, but when he read his report, in complete seriousness, he described a "cure" that involved cryogenic freezing. He described this fictitious "cure" with complete composure, and then asked our instructor, Mr. Hartland, if he knew about this cure. Mr. Hartland, obviously caught by surprise (and not wanting to admit any ignorance) said, "Hey, uh, yeah, but the AMA hasn't approved it yet." All of us in the class had to work very hard to suppress our laughter. My other observation about Joe was that, in the entire time that I knew Joe in junior high and high school, I never heard a sharp word said of him. That is amazing, and a great credit to his character.
~Timothy T. Lupfer
I have so many memories with Dr. Masci spanning over a 10 year run. I guess the three best ways to describe him are prompt, humble, supportive, and impactful.
Promptness: anyone who has ever had a Joe Masci lecture knows three things. You are going to learn a lot, you will start on time. You will be done a few minutes early. No matter the topic, he was always on point and a beloved lecturer.
Humble: As a second year medical student, he precepted a group that included me. One of my patients had findings that didn’t jive with the diagnosis. Despite having reservations about whether I was right, he empowered me to question the findings of his residents. Consequently, we uncovered a cancer diagnosis. Even more revealing was when we arrived at the bedside, we found the patient who was feeling hurt and frustrated that no one else was listening to him about his atypical pain. In the greatest demonstration of empathy I had ever seen, Dr. Masci knelt below the patient’s eye level, took accountability for his team and asserted that the patient was being heard. He gained the trust of a person who had every reason to be distrustful. He inspired all of his students that day through a simple gesture. And I still rely on those lessons from 18 years ago.
Supportive: Upon finishing residency, he offered me the chance to work with him for a few months in my motherland of Ethiopia. He led the Elmhurst Hospital contingent of a twinning program to provide peer mentorship to a hospital in Debre Berhan, Ethiopia. Over the 7+ years during the partnership, there was unparalleled success in terms of morale, perspective change and lifelong friendships. He entrusted me with embedding myself in the program. He was so supportive with my initiatives and efforts with pearls of wisdom and encouragement during the fits and turns of quality improvement. I also got to know him as a friend, mentor and father-figure. I can honestly say I don’t know how my life would have turned out had we not overlapped. Those of you who have read his bio will appreciate how understated he was about his accomplishments. He personified his professional philosophy of “bloom where you land” and inspired other such as myself to do so. Thank you, Joe. Rest In Peace.
~Dr. Aelaf Worku
I first met Joe when we were college sophomores at Cornell University, both working as news reporters for The Cornell Daily Sun. By the time we were seniors, we had become roommates and friends for life. Joe had a wonderful personality which was most notable for his low-key but hilarious sense of humor. He never raised his voice but quietly earned the respect and affection of everyone in the room. I have no doubt that as a physician, Joe combined encyclopedic knowledge of infectious disease with tireless compassion for every patient who needed his help. With his wife Liz Bass, another Cornell Sun alum who was a central part of our close circle of friends, Joe built a warm partnership comprised of two of the best people I know. Their son Jonny should take pride and comfort in the magnificent genes he is carrying from both of his parents, which will live on through Jonny.
~Gary L. Rubin
I got to know Joe through our involvement in The Cornell Daily Sun. Looking back at my college experience, I have to say there are only a few quotations I remember to this day, and Joe, with his pithy sense of humor is the source of two of them. We were planning a baseball game pitting the Sun staff versus the staff of the student radio station WVBR. Joe, known as Baseball Joe, was our captain. I asked Joe if we were going to have a practice before the game. Showing his early understanding of human physiology which must have served him well throughout his medical career, he replied, "I would, but I don't want everyone to be sore for the game."
After one of our school breaks, I asked Joe how he had enjoyed being back in Metuchen seeing his old friends. He explained that when he saw his high school friends they wanted to do the same things they had done in high school, such as going to a drive-in movie and hiding some of the kids in the trunk of the car to save on the admission fee. Not something I was used to doing in Brooklyn!
In January of 2020, soon after we started hearing about a new corona virus from Wuhan, but before there was a pandemic, I was scheduled to moderate a current events discussion for emeritus professors. I asked Joe to be a guest lecturer on corona viruses. He did such an excellent job that two years later the head of the current events program was still praising his presentation. It is not at all surprising that Joe has won multiple awards for his teaching.
As I live so far from Joe and Liz, I have not gotten to see them anywhere near the frequency I would like. I was really pleased when Joe once remarked that it was too bad that we did not get to see each other more often. I do enjoy telling people that when I went to have dinner with my friends they were so glad to see me that they gave me Ebola. Of course, that is the title of their recent book. It is not as if they handed me a test tube of the virus!
Hitting fly balls to each other, watching him know every answer in Trivial Pursuit, sitting in a park, making up a story about how we had contact with aliens.
In 1986 he was the doctor of my brother in law who had full blown AIDS. Very nice man.
I first met Joe when interviewing for a position with Mount Sinai and H+H/Elmhurst Hospital. His office was filled with books, trinkets from his work in many countries, and stacks of journals and papers. He had an energy about him, curious and engaged, and also a steadiness, clear and calm, of someone not easily shaken by disaster and chaos. Joe listened with excitement when we shared our early experiences from the AIDS epidemic in rural Nepal, his eyes twinkling and his eyebrows slightly raised. He related his pioneering experiences at Elmhurst, and then in Ethiopia and Russia, tackling similar problems in so many contexts. Before we left, he moved to the back of his office and picked up a book from a stack– it was his recent book on Ebola that he inscribed and gifted to us.
That day, meeting Joe and walking around the hospital, I started to understand the magic of H+H/Elmhurst. From his position at Elmhurst over 4 decades, Joe was among the first to witness the tragedies of AIDS, TB, the aftermath of 9/11, Ebola, and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic. In each of these tragedies, Joe was actively engaged in a thoughtful response, with careful attention to trends and early lessons, organizing training of front-line providers, developing systems for comprehensive, team-based care, and keenly understanding the needs of patients.
Partly because of the impression that Joe left, Duncan and I joined Mount Sinai and Elmhurst Hospital. Shortly after we settled, the COVID-19 pandemic rose like a frightening wave over our neighborhood and hospital. Joe was one of the main leaders in the response at H+H and Elmhurst. In our frequent conversations during the early months of the pandemic, Joe shared stories that pushed us to think. As we all struggled with feeling overwhelmed, Joe reflected on what we were seeing in the wards and in the numbers at the hospital and system level, and thought about the narrative of what these observations meant. He was a leader that listened and collaborated. Together we envisioned and implemented a collaboration bringing together clinicians and investigators at Elmhurst with researchers at the Mount Sinai Department of Global Health: CURE-19, the COVID Unit for Research at Elmhurst. Joe’s vision, ability to motivate colleagues, and deep knowledge of how systems at H+H work, were invaluable to creating the partnership. Our work began by meeting to talk and share and trouble-shoot for an hour each week, and slowly grew to include more colleagues and departments, and we began to take on research projects and build long-term collaborations. Joe’s questions and insights during those weekly sessions are what kept so many of us returning, and he gave us a space for calm collaborative thinking amidst the chaos.
Since the early months of the pandemic, our partnership evolved and Joe continued to lead to create something that would be institutionalized and last. Over the past year, while Joe had struggled with health issues, we pushed forward with several of the initiatives we had begun together, sorely missing his active input, but hearing from him whenever he could, and eagerly anticipating his return.
It was so hard to hear about his passing. Our partnership between Mount Sinai Global Health and H+H/Elmhurst and Queens was shaped and nurtured with Joe, and we hope to carry his vision and legacy forward.