Advancing paediatric surgery through education and research

Francesco Cozzi obituary

It is with profound sorrow that we announce the passing of our beloved Francesco Cozzi, a lifelong friend of the BAPS.

Francesco Cozzi

Italian Paediatric Surgeon

7th AUG 1937  – 12th July 2023

Franco peacefully departed this life at his home in Rome on Wednesday, July 12, 2023. He was nearly 86 years of age. He belonged to the first generation of Italian surgeons with formal training in paediatric surgery, which he received in the UK.

He was born in Calabritto, a small town in Campania (South of Italy) and was the third-generation physician in his family, qualifying at the Sapienza University of Rome in 1961. Although initially educated as a paediatrician, he seized the opportunity to fulfil his dream of becoming a paediatric surgeon when the decision was made to develop an academic paediatric surgery service at the University Hospital Policlinico Umberto I, in partnership with the Sapienza University of Rome. He, therefore, undertook two years of foundation training in general surgery at the Department of Surgery there, which was led at that time by Prof. Pietro Valdoni, one of the founding fathers of surgery in Italy. In 1965, Franco, along with his wife Mariolina, crossed the English Channel to continue specialist training in London, at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. He was first, a Senior House Officer, then locum Senior Registrar, and finally Research Assistant under the watchful eye of Prof. Andrew Wilkinson, the Nuffield Professor in Paediatric Surgery. During those two years spent at GOSH, in parallel with his clinical work, he pursued research. His fields of interest oesophageal atresia and anorectal malformations. Prof. Wilkinson deeply inspired Franco in his further career, becoming his lifelong mentor and friend.

Afterwards, he returned to Rome at the University Hospital Policlinico Umberto I, where he devoted himself to leading and developing a fine Paediatric Surgery Unit for the next 40 years. His was a very young appointment for a surgeon at that time. His academic career began as Research Assistant and culminated with the title of Associate Professor of Paediatric Surgery in 1985. His academic lifetime was highly productive, with relevant contributions spanning many aspects of paediatric surgery. However, special mention should be given to upper airway obstruction and nephron-sparing surgery for unilateral renal tumours. On the latter topic, he was undoubtedly a pioneer and a world-renowned expert.

He was an excellent educator and role model, training two generations of successful Italian paediatric surgeons, some of whom pursued a career abroad. The care and thought he bestowed on the children committed to his charge, commanded the respect and affection of all those who worked with him.

Franco’s English liaison continued to be very durable, especially strengthened by his regular attendance at the annual meetings of the BAPS, a society that he was very proud to be a member. He felt enormously privileged to have served as a local organizer of the XLIII BAPS meeting held in Sorrento, in 2000. By common consent, one of the most memorable of all the BAPS congresses.

In the years after his retirement, he continued to be very active in many areas of research. In 2021, he received the Franco Soave medal, which is annually awarded by the SICP (Italian Society of Paediatric Surgery) in recognition of outstanding contributions to the field.
His pride and joy were his family, to which he was devoted. Franco was the first to admit how blessed he had been with Mariolina, his wife for nearly 58 years, and how much he owed to her. Mariolina has been always very supportive and was an enchanting travelling companion to the many national and international meetings. They acted as hosts, in their lovely home in Rome, to many friends and visitors from all over the world. Many people have fine memories of their tremendous hospitality and Mariolina’s wonderful cooking. Franco was also immensely proud of their four children and ten grandchildren and was deeply involved in their lives. A few hours before his departure, he was so fortunate to enjoy a last family party hosted at his home to celebrate the graduation of his first niece.

Franco was a consummate gentleman, with an infectious laugh and a wonderful sense of vitality and curiosity, great humility and true intellect. Many who knew Franco, will remember the Latin motto very dear to him “Ad maiora semper” (always strive towards greater dreams). This motto encapsulates the spirit of excellence he put into every aspect of his life. But above all else, Franco was a man of faith. May the Lord grant us consolation for the sorrow of his departure and strengthen the hope to see him again one day. Therefore, “arrivederci” dear Franco, and thank you again for everything you’ve done for your family, your little patients, and everyone who had the privilege of knowing you.


Dennis Cozzi

Paediatric Surgeon

Rome, Italy

[curated by Mark Davenport]

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