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Obituaries

Dr. Mary Kornei: Passion for life reflected in patient care, family love


Photo By: Courtesy of the Kornei family
Photo Courtesy Of The Kornei Family

The passions of Dr. Mary Kornei were many and varied. The Kornei family, from left, Katherine, Mark, Mary and Tom, vacation in Alaska.

Mary Catherine Kornei was a doctor who still made house calls. She cared deeply about her patients, visiting them on weekends and sleeping lightly so that she could be there for them at a moment’s notice.

Dr. Kornei, a longtime Los Altos resident and South Bay native, died April 30 of complications from lymphoma. She was 65.

Dr. Kornei’s family, friends and colleagues described her as a positive soul with an affinity for the outdoors, talented and passionate across a range of activities. She hiked regularly; spoke French fluently; loved her cats; enjoyed cooking, sewing, reading, gardening, and according to husband Tom, even hanging clothes outside on the line to dry. She was often seen bicycling in her white lab coat to and from her office near El Camino Hospital.

The daughter of Elizabeth and Dr. Vernon Schulein, a medical internist, Dr. Kornei grew up with her brother, John, in Willow Glen. She took ballet and piano lessons, participated in Girl Scouts and enjoyed hikes in the woods with her family. She attended Sacred Heart High School in Menlo Park and completed her undergraduate work in English and French at Santa Clara University in 1969. She lived in Aix-en-Provence, France, for two years after college and kept her French-language skills current.

Dr. Kornei joined a Sierra Club bicycle trip along the Feather River in Northern California in 1973. On that trip, she met Tom Kornei, an electrical engineer who owned a small computer hardware company in Cupertino. The couple began dating before she enrolled at Yale Medical School in 1976. They were married at Stanford Memorial Church in July 1977 and moved to Los Altos.

Dr. Kornei completed her medical residency at Stanford University in 1980 and began working in the Cupertino Clinic. The Korneis welcomed their first child, Katherine, in 1984. Dr. Kornei opened a private practice on Hospital Drive near El Camino Hospital in 1985. A second child, Mark, joined the family in 1988.

Dr. Kornei was often on call. She wanted her patients to receive the best care and always made time for them. Even as a regular attendee sitting in one of the front pews at Los Altos United Methodist Church, she often quietly slipped out to answer a vibrating call from her answering service. Dr. Kornei worked at her private practice until her retirement in 2009.

“She was passionate in her love for medicine beyond any economic ramifications,” Tom said, recounting how his wife called patients in the evening at home to share lab results and provided many services pro bono.

She biked to work with side baskets containing medical charts.

Dr. Kornei’s friends and patients knew her as a caring, positive person with a beautiful smile. She sent thank-you notes for even the smallest kindnesses.

Her son, Mark, said dinners at 8 p.m. were commonplace growing up, because “that’s when mom finished caring for her patients.”

He remembers as a child hauling around mailing tubs full of files in hospital corridors, trailing his mom as she made rounds. Patient care wasn’t a job – it was a passion, but so was bread baking, travel and everything else she did in a life that was lived to the fullest.

“That passion rubbed off on my sister and myself,” Mark said.

Dr. Kornei’s daughter, Katherine, recalled important lessons learned from mom – the thrill of growing vegetables in the garden, the joy of travel and not being afraid of trying new experiences.

“I loved watching her test her language skills and pick up a guide book to explore a foreign city,” she said. “I remember wandering around the backroads of Venice with her and going into a glass-blowing shop on the island of Murano to view an artist at work.”

Longtime friend and colleague Dr. Cesar Molina called Dr. Kor- nei “a very courageous person” who took life’s challenges head on and approached death the same way. He said he received an email from her about visiting one last time “before her journey” so she could say goodbye.

Dr. Kornei is survived by husband Tom, daughter Katherine, son Mark, mother Elizabeth Schulein, brother John Schulein, nephew Greg Schulein and niece Michelle Parsons.

A celebration of Dr. Kornei’s life is scheduled 2 p.m. June 8 at Los Altos United Methodist Church, 655 Magdalena Ave. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent in her honor to the American Cancer Society, PO Box 2218, Oklahoma City, OK 73123-1718.

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