The PATRIOTIC DOC
BY RACHEL CUCCURULLO
Originally from Delhi, India, where he studied medicine, a young Dr. Shamsher Singh moved to Brooklyn to complete his medical residency at the State University of New York Health Science Center. After four tough winters in the North, he made his way down to sunny Florida in 1980.
“One year, they counted only 29 sunny days for the whole year! There was not a dermatologist in Port Saint Lucie, so I decided to move my family down here and opened my office,” Singh says with a smile. “I’ve been in this current location off of Hillmoor Drive, next to St. Lucie Medical Center, for 36 years.”
Singh moved to the area with his wife, son and daughter. He recalled that the Treasure Coast was very quiet, ideal for families, and had a population of roughly 7,000 people. His life was centered around family, taking the kids to after-school activities like karate and Eagle Scouts, and keeping up with schoolwork.
“There is not much time for anything else when you have two young kids in school,” he says. “It wasn’t until they were teenagers that I became more involved with volunteer work.”
Growing up in India, Singh’s family was acquainted with Mother Teresa. He had met her several times between childhood and adulthood, and he has kept letters sent to him from her. Singh mentioned that she is one of his biggest inspirations to help others.
One of Singh’s earliest humanitarian ventures was with HANDS of St. Lucie County, a local non-profit that provides access to healthcare for low-income adult residents. HANDS was at risk of completely shutting down its operation, but Singh created a matching challenge wherein he donated $10,000. That amount was more than doubled and allowed for the non-profit to keep its doors open to the public.
In 2004, when the area experienced the wrath of back-to-back hurricanes, Singh donated $250,000 to the St. Lucie Board of County Commissioners. The unpublicized donation was used to provide assistance to senior citizens in need. He has also been quite involved with Boy Scout Troop 772, offering two years of tuition at Indian River State College to any boy who graduated high school and made it to the rank of Eagle Scout.
These days, much of Singh’s time is taken up by the Southeast Florida Honor Flight, a flight that takes World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the war memorials. After taking his first flight in 2012, Singh said he was completely hooked.
“To be able to bring these men who served our country to the memorial is an incredible experience. Many of them have never had the chance to visit before this,” he says. “You see smiles and you also see tears.”
This September, Singh will take his 27th Honor Flight. His volunteer efforts have allowed the Southeast division to take 3,000 veterans since its start in 2012. Singh explained that there is a lot of work going into each flight. There are charter buses, police escorts, assigned guardians for the veterans and, of course, booking the privately chartered flight.
“The homecoming landing is amazing. There are 1,500 to 2,000 people cheering and screaming for these men, ‘USA! USA!’” Singh says cheerfully. “It is really a sight to see.”
Currently, there are 43 states with Honor Flight hubs and nine are in Florida. Each flight costs around $100,000, and with the cost of fuel going up, airlines are charging much more.
“The flights are funded one hundred percent by donation,” Singh says. “We still manage to take about 300 veterans a year on four separate flights, but it is becoming increasingly more difficult to fund.”
Singh’s personal efforts help to raise about $55,000 to $60,000 every year. He sets up various fundraising events such as golf tournaments, clay shooting competitions and a show at one of the local theaters.
“Doing this kind of work is just what I enjoy doing. I have always helped others,” Singh says. “This is part of the Hindu culture, being generous to those without and living a modest life.”
DR. SHAMSHER SINGH
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Family: Wife, Anita; son, Rohit, 33, and daughter, Deepika, 31.
Education: All India Institute of Medical Sciences; internship, Long Island College Hospital; residency in dermatology, State University of New York.
Hobbies: Honor Flight and tennis
Who inspires me: Mother Teresa
Something most people don’t know about me: “I have never taken a sick day off from work, ever.”