MADEIRA BEACH — Rafael Misa lived a passionate life.
As a urologist, he bypassed a more lucrative career for 25 years at a VA medical center.
"I heard it from other doctors," said his son, Tony. "They would say, 'Misa, why don't you come be a millionaire like the rest of us?' But that wasn't his way."
His passion extended to music. In his native Cuba, Dr. Misa played bongos and the tres guitar. He passed on an appreciation for Cuban music to his nephew, who became a famous drummer.
Dr. Misa died Friday at his home. He was 92.
He grew up in the Camaguey province, the son of a businessman and a Methodist missionary. One day, when a waitress and single mother named Marina asked about her sick 2-year-old, he pursued and married her.
He emigrated to the United States in 1956. After Fidel Castro clamped down on travel, he arranged for relatives' passage to the United States.
At Bay Pines, Dr. Misa bonded with veterans. "He would sit on the bed with patients and stroke their arm or their leg," said Michael Misa, Dr. Misa's youngest son. "He would say, 'I know you feel bad now, but you'll get better. Just wait and see.' "
He followed the news closely and railed against communism. He also learned what it means to be an immigrant. Once, during an operation, a famous surgeon asked Dr. Misa if it was true Cubans don't wear shoes.
Dr. Misa made sure he was dressed well from head to toe. He seldom left the house without wearing a tie, even for routine errands. At home, he and Marina put on Trio Matamoros records and danced. When she tired of dancing, he played along on his guitar or bongos.
"My uncle was taught by the black Cubans, and he gave me the knowledge of that (Afro-Cuban) group," said Orestes Vilato, Dr. Misa's nephew, who played drums through the 1980s for the rock group Santana.
When Vilato was 5, his uncle presented him with another gift — his first set of bongo drums. "From him I got into popular Cuban music," said Vilato, now 64 and a 1995 Grammy Award nominee.
Dr. Misa tried to leave his other passion, medicine, but couldn't stay retired. He practiced until age 85.
After Marina's death in 2003, Michael convinced his father to return to Cuba. As the plane banked to the east, past Havana's skyline and harbor, Dr. Misa looked out the window at land he had not seen in 47 years.
"As he saw the island," Michael said, "he just shook his head and, I think, he just recognized its beauty."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2321.