A very strange day. At 9 a.m. I settled into my desk and picked up the phone to call my dentist?s office. I had an appointment for 11 and planned to cancel with a bogus excuse about having the flu. The woman on the other end said bluntly, ?hello?? and when I asked if this was Dr. David Gong?s office the professionalism reentered her tone. I explained that I needed to cancel for 11 and she said ?He?s not coming in today,? and I thought ?Oh good, he?s sick too,? and then she said ?Have you seen the news? There?s been a shooting. And they?ve let everyone back into the building and he hasn?t arrived and he just wouldn?t do that.?

I hung up with horrified apologies and I?ve been checking the news all day since. It seems some deranged man walked up to him at 7:50 a.m. a block from his office in the usually peaceful Polk Gulch/Russian Hill neighborhood and said ?You remember me,? and shot him. Dr. Gong ran but was shot again, and then the man climbed into his own car and shot himself. This is the story from the SF Chronicle.

I?ve been thinking about Dr. Gong all day. I first went to him when I cracked open a filling on a back molar. He urged me to get a gold crown instead of porcelain, even though gold was less expensive and less profitable for him, because he swore it would last longer. His office was on the sixth floor of a building at Van Ness and Jackson and had a panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay. For some reason, every day I visited him the weather was clear, and you could see all the way to the hills and shrubs of Tiburon.

His office was decorated with color prints of photos he?d taken, vivid pictures of fish markets and bicycle races. He loved to talk about Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France. The thing I most got a kick out of about Dr. Gong is that he was very talkative and would never ask you the kind of yes/no conversation filler you could answer with your mouth full of dental equipment. Instead of asking ?Is the writing going well?? he?d ask something involved like ?Where do you get your inspiration?? And then he?d expect you to answer, and you?d wait till he stopped scraping or drilling and do your best to mumble a satisfactory response.

I really liked the guy. My heart goes out to his wife and two kids and the workers at his office.

15 Comments

  • C Posted October 29, 2005 12:43 pm

    Thank you for writing about this. As a professional colleague of his, I was wondering what kind of man/dentist Dr. Gong was.

  • Nel Leal Posted October 29, 2005 3:48 pm

    I received a copy of your writing from my wife Darlene Gong, David Gong’s sister, who in turn received it from a friend. In this difficult time the family is still trying to come to terms with this senseless tragedy. It’s comforting to hear, however, from one of the many people he touched in the world. On behalf of David’s family I thank you.

    If you would like to attend, there will be a memorial service for David next Thursday, November 3rd, @ 11:00 A.M., at Kelly’s Mission Rock, 817 China Basin Way, San Francisco.

  • tina Posted October 29, 2005 9:21 pm

    This is exactly the experience I had when I saw him too! It always cracked me up that he would ask these very interesting questions while I couldn’t quite respond. I loved hearing his stories about all his photographs. My heart, too, goes out to his family and friends.

  • Willie Posted October 30, 2005 6:44 pm

    Dave was also my dentist and I knew his family many years ago. He was just a great guy–the only dentist I had ever looked forward to seeing. He was the true renaissance man with variety of interests. He was always so excited to tell me about his latest adventure. What a tragic loss. My heart goes out to his family. Does anyone know if Dave had a favorite charity that his friends and patients could donate to?

  • Elizabeth Wilcox Posted October 31, 2005 12:40 pm

    Dear Rachel: My husband, Joe Hastings, was a friend and colleague of David Gong’s. I too have found your comments very comforting as we’re all struggling to comprehend this senseless tragedy. My husband is a woodworker who David always encouraged and “cheered on”. Joe made David’s family kitchen–a beautful custom-made wood design which David loved.

    The reason I’m writing to you is that I went on your website and read the blurb about your own memoir and realized with some shock that you also lost your father violently. The first three people I thought about when I heard about David were his two children and wife. His children are only 18 or 19 (twins) and I know, having lost my dad at 18, that this will be difficult..but I realize even more difficult will be their struggle with how his death happened. I will be ordering your book and hope your own story has something for us all to learn.

    Thank you so much for your reflections about David Gong. They are kind and comforting.

    With very warm regards, Elizabeth Wilcox

  • Rachel Posted October 31, 2005 1:14 pm

    Thanks everyone for your comments about Dr. Gong. I hope visitors will continue to post their memories of him here. Willie, my husband read your comment and said the same thing: He would actually look forward to seeing Dr. Gong.

    I know when I started going to Dr. Gong’s office it was a great relief because I had previously been at a rather shady practice that told me I needed two crowns and then passed me off between three different dentists in the space of one month. None of them knew me or my dental history or cared what happened to my teeth, and one put my temporary crown on askew, causing me horrible pain. Dr. Gong did all his own work and cleanings, of course, and cared personally about the longevity of your teeth. He was a true professional. And he was just a hoot to talk to.

    Elizabeth, it is true that my own father was killed, and his case was never solved. Ultimately I came to peace with that uncertainty by writing my book. Grief is so individual that I don’t presume to know what Dr. Gong’s family is going through. But for anyone who has lost a friend or family member to violence, I do highly recommend a non-profit organization called Parents of Murdered Children. It’s not just for parents, but any relative or friend of a murder victim, and has chapters throughout the U.S. Their website is http://www.pomc.org.

  • Lorrie Posted November 2, 2005 2:53 pm

    I was so sad when I heard the news. I still can’t believe it. Dr. Gong has been my dentist for almost 20 years and my husband’s even longer. I figure I’ve been to his office almost 100 times.

    I started going to him the day after his twins were born. Unlike so many people, I looked forward to a visit to the dentist. It was actually relaxing just to sit there and listen to him talk with such obvious enthusiasm about an incredible variety of subjects – bicycling, photography, his dogs, softball, carpentry, fishing, fish – his interests were so wide and varied over the years (but never politics!). And he always talked about his kids. They grew up while I sat in the dentists chair.

    He was such a good and decent guy. Passionate, straigt-forward, easy-going, and friendly. I’ll really miss him. My heart goes out to his wife, his children and his wonderful office staff.

  • Chuck Posted November 2, 2005 6:26 pm

    I just learned of Dave’s murder a little over an hour ago. My wife and I live in Berkeley, don’t read the Chronicle and, more times than not, the Oakland Tribune sits in the garage in a stack largely undisturbed.

    I called Cindy at Dave’s office because I’d received a letter informing me of his death. I knew that Dave had added a new room recently, so when I saw the computerized label on the envelope I thought to myself, “Oh, Dave’s sending out a notice–a little late!–announcing his addition.” Imagine my surprise.

    I’d seen Dave for more than twenty years. I started seeing him in 1982, if not 1981, on the recommendation of a co-worker, Dick Talmadge. Dick raved about him, and I too, began to rave to friends, employees, and colleagues. He was an excellent dentist, and provided us with many years of exceptional care. My wife saw him last, just three or four weeks ago.

    Remember when he tried doing music on the headphones during fillings? It was in vogue at the time, a way to take a patient’s mind off the noise and pain. I can’t remember what type of music I chose, but he had a selection. “I’m trying something new”, he told me. But it didn’t last too long, this “new-fangled” approach to patient care. But that was the kind of person he was; Dave was always looking for ways to make us feel more comfortable or to do what was best for us. He once filled a cavity I had without any Novocain. “By the time I give you the shot”, he said, “I’ll be done.” Of course, he was right.

    I loved watching his kids grow up, seeing the photos from his various trips, and his wonderful stories. I’m finding this difficult to believe and to take in. We’d had another friend murdered some years back. Carmel was a hair stylist, and owned a salon South of Market. We’d known her twelve years when she died. Her ex-husband had had her killed, and it sometimes surprises me, even now, to stop and think that she’s gone.

    Dave, we will miss you. You deserved better.

  • Jacqui Davis Posted November 2, 2005 10:04 pm

    My sister and I have like alot of others been seeing Dr.Gong for a very long time. From the time we first arrived in San Francisco over twenty years ago we have come to think of Dr.Gong almost as a brother to us. While many people dread their visits to the dentist we looked at it as a chance to visit with an old friend.
    Dr. Gong was a definite influence in some of the major decisions in our lives.
    My heart goes out to Dr. Gongs’ family in this time of incredible sadness. It’s obvious that he will be deeply missed by the people who had the good fortune to know him.

  • Deborah L Thomas Posted November 3, 2005 9:44 am

    I am 36. The first time I met Dr. Gong was when I was 18. He’d already been taking care of my dad and mom. My sister started seeing him too at 23 (she is 5 years older than me). Since then my family has moved to different states but as the only Thomas in SF, I continued visiting Dr. Gong twice a year. Enjoying his company, the view, the pictures, the fish, the stories and the questions he would inevitably ask when I’d be getting a filling. Visiting Dr. Gong was like a visit with my family in a sense. He was always asking me about how my dad was with his retirement, how my stepmom was handling my new brother, how my mother was doing in Oregon and what my sister was up to in Seattle. He was always curious to know where I was working, living and whether I was enjoying life. I saw him twice this past June and can still feel the work he did on a chipped tooth and a filling I needed redone. I am so happy to have had that work done even though at the time I wasn’t so happy getting shots and hearing that drill. Dr. Gong – I love you, my family loves you and we’re going to miss you. May your wonderful family that you loved so much feel forever your love, dedication and your lovely sense of humor.

  • Vida John Posted November 3, 2005 12:38 pm

    I received the letter from his office yesterday, did a quick web search and just learned the violent nature of his death. I am just so sad. I have been a patient since the early 90s when I was a medical student at UCSF. Over the years, I always looked forward to hearing the latest about his children, his many hobbies: photography, raising lizards, sport fishing. I was thrilled when he told me his daughter was playing professional soccer in Europe! Dr. Gong got me started on digital photography years ago, recommending books for learning how to photoshop, and we compared new cameras every year. At one appointment several years ago, I mentioned that I was taking a trip to San Diego, and within a few days Dr. Gong had mailed me some free passes to local zoos and attractions that he received as part of his membership in their societies. How I remember his impressive memory for different lizards! He would just rattle off their names and distinguishing colors: “The Arizona lizard has a red body with black stripes…” etc. Since moving to Redwood City, I continued to see him, and took my daughters to see him until just this year when it became too inconvenient to travel so far.

    If Dr. Gong’s family is reading this, please know that I am truly so very sorry…Dr. Gong was a wonderful person and I will miss him.

  • Debbie Posted November 7, 2005 9:11 am

    I was unable to attend Dr. Gong’s memorial but came across this blog and was very touched by everyone’s postings. I wanted to extend my prayers and deepest sympathy to Dr. Gong’s wife, children, family and friends.
    I too was a long time patient of nearly 25 years and in fact most of my family members saw Dr. Gong at one time or another. My mom was his first office manager when he took over the practice all those years ago.
    Dr. Gong never let an appointment pass without inquiring about my family and always remembered the small details about what they were doing, where they were living, etc. He had an uncanny memory.
    Dr. Gong also never let me leave the office without scolding me about brushing behind my teeth more! I appreciated his honesty, integrity and humor as well as all the great stories he told. He had a real zest for life and a positive energy that rubbed off. No matter how my mouth felt, I always left his office a bit lighter and happier. Doctors are part of our support systems and when you are lucky enough to have an association with one like Dr. Gong, he truly becomes part of your extended family.
    Dr. Gong was genuine. He was a giver who engaged life with a wonderful enthusiasm. He was a very talented and accomplished person. Some people just stand out in this world, leave a lasting impression and you never forget them.
    I will always remember Dr. Gong.

  • Rachel Posted November 7, 2005 2:37 pm

    My husband and I attended Dr. Gong’s memorial last Thursday, though we had to leave early due to work committments. I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised to see such a throng of people there–at least a thousand, by our guess. Definitely a testament to how much his patients appreciated him.

  • Judith Joy Rivera Posted November 8, 2005 12:39 pm

    Isn’t it amazing how you can come to care for someone you see for 30-45 minutes every 6 months for 15 years? I had to smile when I read someone’s comment about looking forward to seeing Dr. Gong… I felt the same. Knowing that I’d get to see him, the view from his office and catch up on People magazine was something to look forward to!!! I’m so sad that I can’t look forward to that anymore. I didn’t realize until now how much I valued having Dr. Gong as a “routine” in my otherwise crazy life.

    While I got to know him through his work, his love for his family and his photography (he gave me one of the whale tail photos from his fishing trip!) – he got to know me through Denise, Lavinia, an ex-husband, boyfriends, jobs & travel. I live in Hawaii now and had planned to see him on my return to the mainland tonight. My former roommate (also another patient), gave me the horrible, horrible news…. It’s so senseless and a bad reminder of how short life truly is…. I will miss him….

    Rachel, thank you for this opportunity to share our grief.

    My love and condolences to his family…. I wonder if he ever got to take that trip to see his daughter playing soccer in Scotland?

  • Bob Igram Posted February 25, 2014 9:14 pm

    I dont know what reminded me of this tragedy 9 years later, but i knew Dave from his regular visits to Hi’s Tackle Box when i worked there in the late 90’s………He loved to fish, was fortunate to travel far and wide to enjoy his hobby. He was a skilled angler, and that was just his hobby….i can only imagine what a skilled dentist he was, because he had a clear focus and desire to be as good as possible in everything he did, this was readily apparent when you spoke to him. I vividly remember pictures and video he showed us of a trip to catch huge Bluefin Tuna fishing off the East Coast. Dave was a liked, and likable guy, why someone would target him is a mystery……

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