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Notably Norwich: This year's pride of Norwich stands out, even in Manhattan

Dr. Vincent P. Laudone has excelled at most things he’s tried in life. Even in high school, it was clear he was destined for greatness.

He was an honors student at Norwich Free Academy, from which he graduated in 1973, and co-captained the swim team. He played clarinet in the marching band and school orchestra, ran cross country and played on the tennis team, too, though he humbly claims he “had no real talent or abilities for either” of the other sports. He was president of his class in his junior year and headed the Student Advisory Board as a senior.

He matriculated at the Ivy League’s Dartmouth College, where he also swam competitively all four years and initially majored in Russian literature, before moving toward medicine as a psychology major. Initially, he wanted to be a psychiatrist, but at Georgetown University Medical School was drawn to intricacies of medical specialties, settling on urology, then advancing to surgery and ultimately operating four days each week on prostate and bladder cancer patients while mastering what was then the new technology of robotic surgery.

At age 22, during his first year in medical school, he married the girl next door, Katharyn Margaret Glenney, six months his junior, whom he had known since her family moved in next door on Huntington Lane in Norwichtown when he was 7 years old.

Today, having saved hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives, he is at the pinnacle of his field as Chief of Surgery and Medical Director at the Josie Robertson Ambulatory Surgical Center at Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan. It is the world’s largest, oldest and, most agree, best cancer center in the world. When he was named earlier this month by the Norwich Rotary Club and Woman’s City Club to be honored as Norwich’s Native Son for 2022, the only question that came to mind is what took so long?

Dr. Laudone described the recognition as a “very pleasant surprise and an honor to be considered in the company of so many outstanding past recipients.”

The honor, bestowed annually (except the past two years due to COVID), has recognized 52 other Norwich natives who achieved greatness in various fields in other parts of the country and the world. They include former U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp and Capt. Ed Cubanski, past commander of the Coast Guard’s Group Long Island Sound; Division I basketball coaches Nick Macarchuk and Howie Dickenman; Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Peggy Roberts; Pete Slosberg, founder of Pete’s Wicked Ale; acclaimed educator and athlete Dr. Henry Randall; and neonatal cardiac surgeon Dr. William Wilson, who graduated from NFA a year ahead of Dr. Laudone.

Dr. Laudone is the son of the late Vincent A. Laudone, a prominent local attorney and founding partner in the Norwich law firm of what was then Brown, Jacobson, Jewett & Laudone, and his wife, Wanda Zdanowski, the children of Italian and Polish immigrants, respectively, who instilled their devout work ethic in young Vin.

The senior Laudone was a World War II Army hero, who led and fought on the front lines in the Black Forest of Germany in 1944-45, for which he was highly decorated. His recognition included some of the American military’s most prestigious honors: the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge and American Defense Ribbon. The 156-man unit he commanded as a captain was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest unit honor.

The elder Laudone was for many years a fixture at the front of every Memorial Day and Veterans Day parade in Norwich for decades, well into his 80s, marching in uniform to honor those in the military who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Attorney Laudone served in the Connecticut House of Representatives and rose to chair the powerful Republican State Central Committee. Additionally, he was active on behalf of local institutions such as the former Norwich Savings Society, William W. Backus Hospital, Norwich Lodge of Elks, Knights of Columbus and various veterans’ groups. He was also president of the New London County Bar Association and in 2001 was named Citizen of the Year by the local Chamber of Commerce.

His son recalls that he worked seven days a week and that there were no family vacations while he was growing up. Ironically, though, it was his mother who pushed him hardest to excel at whatever he undertook, he said. Clearly, it paid off.

Some of the accomplished sons of other prominent Norwich leaders followed closer to home in their fathers’ footsteps at The William W. Backus Hospital. Drs. Mark Tramontozzi and David Coletti, both accomplished surgeons, are the sons of longtime prominent surgeons, Drs. Anthony Tramontozzi and Larry Coletti. And Dr. Laudone’s brother-in-law, Dr. Daniel Glenney, retired 3 1/2 years ago after following his father, Dr. Christopher Glenney, as an orthopedic surgeon at Backus. The elder Laudone’s role as a community pillar factored into his son’s decision to locate away from Norwich.

“I wanted to make my mark on the world on my own, both in terms of my career and where I ended up,” Dr. Laudone said. “That was the reason I didn’t go back to Norwich at the start of my career. I didn’t want to live in his shadow because he was so well-known. ... I like Norwich and I knew a lot of people there, like the Glenney clan and the Colettis and the Tramontozzis. I wanted to sort of strike out on my own, and it’s not like Hartford (where he first began practicing in 1988) is on the other side of the world. I just wanted to hang out my own shingle.”

Dr. Mark Tramontozzi, three years younger than Dr. Laudone, worked and played with him when they were teenagers, graduating from NFA three years later in 1976. He said he was among many in his age group who looked up to the younger Laudone, even in high school, as a role model and sure bet for success later in life.

When he realized to his surprise that Dr. Laudone had never been honored with Norwich’s Native Son Award, he nominated him earlier this year. The honoree wasn’t aware of the nomination until he got the call informing him of the award.

“Yes, nominating Vin was a no-brainer,” Dr. Tramontozzi said. “He’s shown such dedication, to be commuting to Memorial Sloan Kettering for 14 years. Our fathers were friends and occasional business partners. We grew up going to Pautipaug (Country Club) together during the summers and even working a few summers at apartments our fathers had an interest in. He was always looked up to by younger kids like myself.”

Living with his wife and four children in Glastonbury, Dr. Laudone operated at nearby Hartford Hospital for exactly 20 years before starting work the very next day in 2008 at Memorial Sloan Kettering, more than two hours away in New York City. The decision to work at the world’s foremost cancer center was a heady professional advancement, but challenging personally, being away from home and family during the week and returning only for a day or two on weekends.

“Finding balance is a real challenge,” he acknowledged. “Much of medicine, especially surgery, is a 24/7 job in that patients put their trust in you, and you always want to be there for them. I have been profoundly blessed to have a wife who, as my life partner, understands and supports what I do.

“Katharyn gave up her own career in medicine to take care of our family and allow me to focus on what I do. We have been in this together ... and I would absolutely not have been able to do what I do if not for her. That is not lip service; that is a fact.”

Nevertheless, despite the demands of his job, Dr. Laudone kept his family priorities in order. When his son — the youngest of his four children — competed on his high school’s tennis team, Dr. Laudone made time to be there for every match in each of his son’s four years of competition, driving from New York to Connecticut, then returning to Sloan Kettering the same day, often working well into the night to return his focus to the patients.

At age 66, he has scaled back his surgical schedule from four to two days per week, given his additional administrative duties, but he’s not planning on retirement just yet.

“Retirement is tricky,” he said. “I like what I do, but no one lasts forever, and there are so many great things to enjoy and appreciate in addition to what I do.”

When and if he retires, Dr. Laudone’s departure will be a loss for Sloan Kettering and his patients. More immediately, however, he stands out as this year’s pride of Norwich, the small city where he grew up, studied, competed, honed his solid work ethic, achieved excellence and found the love of his life right next door.

Those of us who knew him “back when” will always be proud of all he has accomplished at the top of his profession. Congratulations, Vin! Your mom and dad would be proud.

Bill Stanley, a former vice president at L+M Hospital, grew up in Norwich.

 

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