Dr. Carol Petito, 76, longtime resident of Coral Gables and New York City, passed away surrounded by her family and dogs on December 15, 2018. Dr. Petito was born in Long Island, NY; went to high school at Northfield Mount Hermon; attended college at Jackson College for Women (Tufts); and studied medicine at Columbia University.
Selfless, humble, caring and beautiful, Carol was known around her neighborhood as the kind lady frequently seen walking her two dachshunds, Penny and Leo. But this friendly exterior belies the remarkable life of a brilliant physician; a mentor to countless women; a wonderful mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, step-mother, sister, aunt, friend and wife; and a proud fighter.
Dr. Petito was the eldest daughter of Charles and Marita Kaiser. Her father, Charles Wille, was a navy man and vocational school teacher. Her mother, Marita Baitinger, was an executive assistant and a homemaker. They both emphasized the importance of education.
Dr. Petito was an amazingly accomplished physician. Working as a neuropathologist at Cornell, she was the first to discover changes to the brain of AIDS patients, a landmark finding in diagnosing and treating AIDS patients. She would say, however, that her greatest professional accomplishments were the many residents and young doctors that she mentored and trained throughout her long and illustrious career at Cornell and the University of Miami as director of the residency training program. These included many trainees who went on to important academic posts and heads of departments at major universities, many of whom always acknowledged her deep impact on their careers. Dr. Petito cared deeply about all of her students and this was the favorite part of her job.
The fact that Dr. Petito became a doctor is amazing and clearly a tribute to her tenacity. Going to medical school in the ‘60s was not the obvious path for a young woman – especially one from modest means. While her college advisors originally discouraged her from applying to Columbia, she persisted, succeeded and graduated from Columbia, becoming a very successful physician at a time when being a female doctor was rare. She was very persistent and never let obstacles keep her from achieving her goals. Dr. Petito loved her work and proudly continued to mentor young doctors and practice medicine until mid-2017, not letting the impediment of lung cancer (diagnosed in 2010) stop her from pursuing all that she loved.
While she defined herself as a doctor, she lived a full life outside of work, traveling around the world with her husband Mike, also a renowned physician; going on golf trips to North Carolina with her sister and nieces; providing her son with constant support and a lifelong love of fly-fishing; patiently accompanying her daughter and grandchildren to theme parks in Orlando and following their many accomplishments with pride; and, regardless of the location, she was always surrounded by her dachshunds who provided a symphony of high pitched barks and howls of love, even during her final days at the hospital. Carol had a total of eight wiener dogs over the course of her life, most notably Penny and Leo, the current pair. Her son and daughter reluctantly accept the fact that Penny and Leo are likely her most beloved children, even though they were purchased from the back of a van parked behind a 7-11.
Family was always of paramount importance to Dr. Petito who is survived by her loving husband, Dr. Michael Norenberg; her children, Frank and Anne, who remember her with unwavering love, incredible admiration for her accomplishments and tremendous appreciation for being the best mother and example a child could hope for; her five grandsons, Jack, Gus, Henry, Cameron and Kiefer who will endeavor to honor her great legacy as they move through life; her siblings June and Charley, who were also her best friends; nephews and nieces who brought joy to her life – and she to theirs; lovely step-children and grandchildren who became family; her ex-husband and Columbia classmate, Dr. Frank Petito; and many other relatives and dear friends, including the incomparable Novlette Bowden who was her recent companion in shopping for silly socks and indulging in the occasional chocolate frosty at Wendy’s.
A Memorial Service followed by a celebratory gathering will take place at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Pinecrest, Florida from 3-5 PM on Saturday, January 19, 2019. Please feel welcome to join us if your life was touched by Dr. Petito.