Dr. Francisco Martinez, served in Spanish Civil War before becoming a doctor to Spanish-speaking residents in Humboldt Park, dies at 105

Some poor patients would pay Dr. Martinez in cheese they had received as federal food benefits.

SHARE Dr. Francisco Martinez, served in Spanish Civil War before becoming a doctor to Spanish-speaking residents in Humboldt Park, dies at 105
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Dr. Francisco Martinez began studying medicine while imprisoned in Morocco and attended medical school in his native Spain before coming to the U.S. in 1955.

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Long before Dr. Francisco Martinez began treating Spanish-speaking patients in his Humboldt Park office, he joined the Spanish Army as a 17-year-old shortly before civil war broke out in 1936.

He and his father, who had served as a musician and composer of marches in an Army band, were on the side that eventually led to dictator Francisco Franco taking over the country.

Neither saw combat, said Dr. Martinez’s son, Marco Martinez.

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After the war, his mother, a strong-willed French woman, drew the ire of local officials when she flew the French flag at their Barcelona home during a parade and she refused to offer a fascist salute, he said.

“She said, ‘I don’t feel like it.’ And they wouldn’t arrest a woman at that time, but they arrested her husband and son and they were political prisoners sent to Morocco for two years,” Marco Martinez said.

Dr. Martinez had access to books in prison and began studying medicine. After his release he attended medical school in Spain and made his way to the United States and Chicago in 1955, where he began to work as a medical resident at Cook County Hospital.

It quickly became apparent his future was in the United States, so he approached friend and fellow physician, Dr. Elio Fornatto, for help.

“After I analyzed the situation the only way was for him to get married to an American citizen, so he point-blank just told me ‘Can you help me?’” Fornatto, 94, recalled.

“And I did, I set him up with an Italian girl who previously became an American citizen herself, and they became friends and were married six weeks later at City Hall. I was a witness,” he said.

The couple had two sons and lived in Austin until moving into their dream house in River Forest.

Dr. Martinez worked long hours.

“He didn’t charge very much or raise his prices. I can’t say he was a great businessman,” his son said. “There are stories that his patients would give him government cheese as payment, and we’d make grilled cheese sandwiches from them. He knew famine and war and tough times, and it was very different back then, it wasn’t like a lot of insurance companies and paperwork and red tape.”

His son also became a doctor and took on some of his father’s patients after he retired in 1999.

“They said he did more than treat illness, he was a counselor for daily family issues. Now we have social services and behavioral health, and he was all that rolled into one, like a lot of doctors of the day in the ’70’s where they were everything to the communities that they served.”

Dr. Martinez died May 24 from natural causes. He was 105.

“He was a very reserved man, he didn’t talk about the war too much, my mom did most of the talking,” his son said. “I did ask him once, ‘How did you feel about being on Franco’s side?’ And all he said was the other side was killing priests, and he was a devout Catholic.”

Dr. Martinez returned to visit Spain many times throughout his life.

“When we’d visit Spain under Franco’s rule, no one looked happy, and when we went after Franco, when it became a democratic monarchy, I mentioned to him that things seemed different and people were smiling, and he said, ‘That’s what happens when you have freedom,’” his son said.

Dr. Martinez never met Ernest Hemingway, the famous novelist who grew up in neighboring Oak Park and worked as a journalist covering the Spanish civil war, but one of Dr. Martinez’s friends once gave him a copy of Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and forged Hemingway’s signature as a joke.

Dr. Martinez was conservative and disciplined. He wore a tie on Sundays. He did calisthenics every morning that were popularized by the Royal Canadian Air Force. And his sons wore itchy wool suits when he took his family to dinner in downtown Chicago, where good behavior at the table was an absolute must.

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Dr. Francisco Martinez

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“But I think people were very impressed with how open-minded he was,” his son said. “He really liked to discuss things. He read a lot. He was a seeker of knowledge.”

“It’s funny because, in a lot of ways, my parents had a very traditional marriage, my mother did traditional European wifely things, she laid out his clothes every day, cooked all the meals, but she also got into real estate and owned apartment buildings and in a lot of ways they were their own independent people,” he said.

Dr. Martinez, whose wife died in 2015, moved into a fifth-floor condo in River Forest in his later years and walked up and down the stairs daily for exercise.

“One of his caretakers once asked me after he moved into the condo, ‘Aren’t you afraid he’ll do something in the kitchen or leave the stove on?’ And I said ‘He hasn’t been in the kitchen for 80 years, he’s not going to start now,’’’ his son recalled with a laugh.

In addition to his son, Marco, Dr. Martinez is survived by another son, Francis, a judge in Winnebago County, Illinois, as well as four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Services have been held.

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