Joaquin Gonzalez Cigarroa, Jr., physician, humanitarian, education advocate, and civic leader, was born in San Antonio, Texas, on May 5, 1924, to Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez Cigarroa, Sr., and Josefina Gonzalez de la Vega. During his childhood, his family moved to Laredo where he, his sister Rebeca, and brother Leonides attended public schools. As a young boy, Joaquin Jr. had a calling to be a doctor and accompanied his father on house calls. With a career in medicine in mind, he dedicated himself to his studies and graduated from Martin High School as valedictorian in 1941. He attended the University of Texas at Austin and then at the age of twenty-three graduated with honors from Harvard Medical School in 1947. He subsequently completed internships at the University of Chicago and the former Boston City Hospital between 1948 and 1951. Cigarroa also was a teaching fellow at Harvard before serving as first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in 1951, when he conducted seminal research in hepatitis in Kyoto, Japan, during the Korean War.
Returning to Laredo in 1954, Cigarroa (affectionately referred to as Dr. Joaquin by those who knew him) started a medical practice alongside his father and brother at the Cigarroa Medical Clinic. During the next seven decades, he served not only as a physician who ministered to countless patients as a clinician, but also as a driving force in advancing medicine and education throughout the state of Texas. Colleagues and patients heralded him for his generosity and compassion, and Cigarroa helped establish several medical centers and served as chief of staff at Laredo’s Mercy Hospital for many years and on its board of trustees. He played a vital role in recruiting doctors to South Texas, an area that previously was underserved by physicians. As a member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for twelve years, his vision proved instrumental in expanding the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and establishing a dental school there as well as the approval for the UT Health Science Center in Houston.
In Laredo, Cigarroa worked to facilitate access to higher education for every student regardless of background. In 1968 he and his brother Leo provided compelling testimony before the Texas legislature which led to Senate approval for the establishment of Texas A&M International University in Laredo. He served on the board of the Laredo Independent School District (LISD) for more than twenty-three years. LISD named the Cigarroa Middle School after him when it opened in 1983 in honor of his advancement of education for Laredo’s youth. He also worked to establish new degree programs at Laredo Community College. In recognition of his achievements and life of service, Cigarroa accrued many honors, including: Mr. South Texas, 1981; Laredo Times Man of the Year, 1992 and 1994; LULAC’s Life Achievement Laureate, 1996; Humanitarian of the Year in 1999; Distinguished Alumnus Award, University of Texas, 2002; election as a member of the Philosophical Society of Texas and as Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. He was a longtime member of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Laredo.
Joaquin Cigarroa married Barbara Judith “Bobbie” Flores in 1954. They had ten children: Patricia, Barbara, Francisco, Ricardo, Jorge, Carlos, Gabriella, Joaquin, Maria Elena and Marisa. He and Bobbie encouraged each of their children to achieve their dreams through obtaining a higher education. “There’s nothing more beautiful than learning,” Dr. Joaquin expressed. His son Francisco Cigarroa, a pediatric transplant surgeon, former chancellor of the University of Texas System, and chair of the Ford Foundation’s board of trustees, recalled, “In shadowing my father as he made house calls, and seeing his love of his practice, I received a firsthand view not only of the beauty of the art of medicine, which has run through four generations in my family, but also how this art profoundly touches all classes from the poorest to the wealthiest without regard to class status or homeland of origin.”
Cigarroa was an outspoken civil rights advocate and was noted for a speech he delivered in the Capitol in Austin in 1977 when he stated: “Our voices have been muted by some, and our presence sometimes rejected. If we do not do what is within our power to respond… and if we do not responsibly assure for the continuation of vibrant diversity and the excellence that it fosters, we must bear in part responsibility for the decline of our great institutions, of general education and of Texas society….All of us involved in education should encourage Texans of every background to attain the highest level of education possible.”
Joaquin Gonzalez Cigarroa, Jr., died at the age of ninety-four on March 20, 2019, in Laredo. A funeral Mass was held at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, and he was buried with military honors in Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Laredo.