Dr. Shawki Malek was a founder of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Hunt Valley.
Dr. Shawki Malek was a founder of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Hunt Valley. (Handout)

Dr. Shawki Nimer Malek, a retired gastroenterologist who practiced in Towson for four decades, died of cancer Monday at his Hunt Valley home. He was 75.

Born in Damascus, Syria, he was the son of Nimer Malek, a carpenter, and his wife, Alia. After receiving his medical training in Syria, he arrived in Baltimore on New Year’s Eve 1969.

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“He arrived at the airport and went straightaway to Franklin Square Hospital, where he was to do his medical internship. The hospital had just moved to its new location in Baltimore County and it had moved so recently his taxi driver went to the old location on Calhoun Street,” said his daughter, Alia Malek. “When my dad finally made it to Franklin Square, he was greeted by a lady with a classic Bawlmer beehive hairdo who had no idea who my dad was or why he showed up.”

His daughter said the receptionist made an impression on Dr. Malek.

“She introduced him that very night to the term of endearment, ‘Hon,’ as she had no way of pronouncing his Arabic name,” she said.

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Dr. Malek went on to do his residency in internal medicine at Mercy Medical Center and then a fellowship in gastroenterology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. He established a medical practice on the grounds of Saint Joseph Medical Center.

“He took care of our family,” said a former patient, Sharon Nickey of Arbutus. “He was a good reader of both your health and of the medical literature. He was a hard worker, and no matter how bad you felt going into his office, you felt you were in a good place. He talked to you and explained everything. He had the ability to catch a symptom. He was a busy man but he had time for you.”

In 1974 he married Leyla Akel, a pharmacist from Syria. They lived in the Hopkins House on 39th Street and later settled in Glen Burnie. As a young physician, he also moonlighted at Calvert Hospital in Prince Frederick and St. Mary's Hospital in St. Mary's County.

“My father tried to impress my mother in their first year of marriage. His snazzy apartment was at the limit of his means. He would drive her around in a beloved green Chevy Nova — he wept when it finally died — took her shopping at Hochschild-Kohn and on special occasions, out to dinner at the Chesapeake on Charles Street.”

He also bought equipment for colonoscopies and endoscopies for use in a clinic in Syria.

Dr. Malek was on the staffs of Bon Secours, Mercy, and St. Joseph hospitals and had his own private practice. His daughter said her father, reflecting on his decades in medicine, said, “’In 40 years, I was never sued.’"

A medical colleague, Dr. Marsha J. Brown, recalled their first meeting. “He became a great friend to me since 1974 when I was an intern and he was in the Mercy emergency room. He had a warm spirit and was upbeat and kind. His patients loved him.”

Dr. Malek established a large and diverse medical practice.

Charles H. Dorsey III, associate for the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, said, ”He was an awesome doctor. He was a caring and capable physician who walked you through the processes and procedures. I highly respected him.”

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Dr. Malek retired in 2017 and received notes and cards from his patients.

“He never looked at them, because he couldn't bear the pain of their good wishes when he had to retire because of the cancer,” his daughter said.

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She also said, “My father served them all tirelessly, but always with a tinge of guilt, as he had been educated for free in Syria and would have been a doctor there had the political situation not changed so drastically in 1970, when Hafez al Assad seized power,” his daughter said. “Because my father refused to join the Baath Party, he wasn't welcomed back as a doctor by the regime.”

Dr. Malek was among the founders of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church on Shawan Road in Hunt Valley. The Arabic-language church has a congregation that includes Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian Americans. He was a regular worker — he grilled the kebabs — at the church’s festivals.

His daughter said during his last visit to Damascus, he shared many meals with the residents of an orphanage he has supported.

“I think of my father driving a car he owned in the 1980s. It had a cassette tape deck and he played two songs repeatedly — Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ and ‘If I Were a Rich Man,’ from ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ ” she said. “He also reminded his children, ‘Don’t forget the little guy.’ ”

In addition to his daughter and wife of 45 years, who worked in her husband’s medical practice, survivors include two other daughters, Dr. Rana Malek of Baltimore and Dr. Samar Malek of Annapolis; a son, Hussam Malek of Baltimore; four brothers, Wasfi Malek and Samir Malek, both of Germany; Joseph Malek and Issam Malek, both of Syria; a sister, Souad Malek of Canada; and four grandchildren.

Services were held Wednesday at St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church.

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