It’s not every day that Deborah Heart and Lung Center’s President and CEO Joseph Chirichella gets a letter that is so complimentary for care received at the hospital that the patient urges him to buy the medical team a new car, a new house, an all-expense paid vacation, AND, triple their salary. But this is in fact what George A. Tooks wrote to Deborah.
“Your entire team is the greatest example of efficiency, kindness and excellent quality care that I have ever experienced. They are all professional, listened intently to my questions and very patiently – and wisely – explained everything that I was going to experience with my stent and heart operation. They also added beautiful humor, including voting me ‘Best Patient of the Year’ which helped tremendously,” George wrote.
George has always had a flair for the dramatic. For over 70 years he has been entertaining crowds. George’s young mother died in an accident when he was 6 and his brother Eddie was 8, leaving their Cherokee Grandmother to raise them in Pennsylvania. The two were inseparable, and at the tender ages of 11 and 13 formed a gospel vocal group with Chester S. Barnes and Ralph Ward, Jr., learning recorded songs by singers Sister Rosetta Thorpe and Mahalia Jackson, and groups like the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, the Soul Stirrers when Sam Cooke sang lead, the Dixie Humming Birds, and many more. After a few years of touring, they discovered “The Devils’ Music”- rhythm and blues. Still in their teens, they got their own half-hour radio program every Saturday morning on station WVAM.
After Eddie and Ralph enlisted in the Army, Eddie met two original members of the Genies vocal group that had broken up right after their hit record “Who’s that Knocking” sold over a
million records. That chance meeting brought George and Chet to New York to join Eddie, Bill Gaines and Roy C. Hammond during an explosive musical period with “Alan Freed’s Rock N’ Roll Stage Show” and “Murray the K’s” show, where George rubbed elbows with Ike and Tina Turner, Chubby Checker, JoAnne Campbell, Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers, Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels, the Diamonds, and The Marvelettes, among others. George also later toured with Bobby Thomas and the Orioles from 2000-2005.
In the late ‘60s, George joined “The National Alliance of Native Americans” to produce and share multicultural programs, that hosted performances timed with the discovery of the African Burial Ground in Wall Street and President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. Along the way a medicine woman gave George the name “Circling Eagle.”
That musical journey of two young men to New York began a 35-year performance career in the City which saw George writing, composing, producing, singing and acting in plays, soaps, commercials, oldie & goodie shows, Black Western multicultural shows, and films. His work with the Brooklyn-based Alonzo Players created a new performance space with live soap opera for the theater, bringing numerous celebrities to its stage. This led to a dramatic interpretation series that George and Eddie produced as The LENGA Tooks Musical Workshop, providing stories and songs about former and freed slaves who escaped and settled in the West. This was then followed up with Flat Street Sa’day Nite, a play based on one man’s fight against 1950s racism in Allendale, South Carolina. The play was awarded five Audelco Awards including “Outstanding Musical of the Year”, the highest honor in Black Theater, and received rave reviews from The Daily Challenge, Black Mask Magazine, and the Amsterdam News. This was followed by E-MAN, another well-received play.
Throughout all his artistic endeavors, George’s brother Eddie was right by his side. After Eddie passed away in 1996, George went into a deep depression, moved to Asbury Park, and began taking writing classes. He eventually began performing again, and while on the road in February of 2004 met his future wife Anne. They settled down in Whiting’s Crestwood Village, and then moved to nearby Leisure Knolls so they could care for Anne’s elderly mother. The couple was also beginning to feel their age, and around 2007 started coming to Deborah, him for sleep apnea treatments, and Anne for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“We always dressed up for our appointments,” he said. “I wore a suit and tie and Anne wore a dress and heels. It was our way to honor those treating us, like Dr. Martin (Andrew Martin, MD, Deborah’s Pulmonary Chair), John Hill (Deborah’s Vice President of Pulmonary Services), and Dr. Khan (Zeeshan Khan, DO, Director of Deborah’s Institute of Sleep Medicine).”
Then followed a series of late-in-life misfortunes including George losing his wife, a burst water pipe which destroyed a lifetime of musical and theatrical memorabilia-all of which was uninsured-and a short time sleeping in his car, before Ocean County Senior Services helped him find a new apartment in Whiting.
“So much was ruined,” he said. “But there were so many beautiful people, even strangers, who helped me out.”
And then April 25, 2021 hit. “I had a terrible chest pain driving home from work. I was afraid if I called 9-1-1, they’d take me to my local community hospital. I knew I had to get to Deborah!” So saying prayers, clutching his chest with his right hand, and steering with his left, 82-year old George played another very dramatic role, driving to the emergency department at Deborah where he was immediately admitted.
“Dr. Ice (Daniel Ice, MD) placed a stent in my chest. I didn’t tell our children that I had been in the hospital, until I was released and got home. When I later talked to them (both George and Anne’s from their blended families) I put the phone down, letting them yell until they got it all out of their system. Then, I patiently told them how scary it was, but I knew I had to get to Deborah! They have the best doctors, nurses, and staff in every single department. There is no hospital that is better with more compassion and more understanding! THEY KNOW HOW TO TREAT YOU!”
As George wraps up his cardiac rehab at Deborah, he is incredibly thankful for the care he has received, judging it in the context of the rigorous standards set by the entertainment industry.
“When I was managing Fortune 500 companies in New York, men and women like these were the types that were the most sought after professionals that we were always looking for. Thanks for hiring them. They all have excellent team work that you should be very proud of.”
And he added in one last appeal: “Please reward them.”