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'Mr. Rochester' has been traveling from Caribbean to the Med City for 50 years

In his home country of Antigua, friends and family have an unusual nicknames for retired businessman George Bahri. They call him “Mr. Rochester." That is due to his seemingly boundless enthusiasm for Rochester and Mayo Clinic.

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In his home country of Antigua, friends and family have an unusual nicknames for retired businessman George Bahri. They call him “Mr. Rochester." That is due to his seemingly boundless enthusiasm for Rochester and Mayo Clinic.
Jeff Kiger / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — In his home country of Antigua, friends and family have an unusual nickname for retired businessman George Bahri.

They call him “Mr. Rochester." That is due to his seemingly boundless enthusiasm for Rochester and Mayo Clinic.

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Despite living on a Caribbean island, a dream for many people in Rochester, the gregarious Bahri deeply loves visiting Rochester for treatment at Mayo Clinic as does his large family.

During his most recent visit, he decided to advertise his excitement by creating and wearing a white shirt printed with metallic gold lettering announcing “George celebrating 50 years coming to Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN.”

Bahri, who is well versed in Rochester and Mayo Clinic history, recently sat down in the Kahler Grand Hotel to talk about his experiences here and why he is obsessed with a Minnesota city.

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A lot of patients that come here enjoy the experience and appreciate the city. You have gone beyond that. Is it fair to call you a cheerleader for Rochester?

“They call me the ambassador for Rochester in Antigua. I try to know things and help people traveling here. I'll get a call either here or Antigua and somebody will want to know what bus to take to get to Menards or Home Depot. I always have the bus schedule with me, so I tell them what bus will get them there.”

How did the relationship with Mayo Clinic and Rochester begin?

“It started with my grandma, my mom’s mom in 1948. She had kidney stones. An excellent doctor, who was from Jamaica and had studied in New York, said, “There's a place in America by the name of Mayo Clinic. They will be able to get those stones. She journeyed up here and had the stones removed. That was the start.”

“Then my mom came here twice in the 1960s. I was born in '61. I think she came in '63 and '66 for some elective surgery. After that, our whole family – about 100 people – started coming here.”

“It's our home away from home. The minute somebody has a chronic problem or something that they can't resolve anywhere else. We don't go hunting anymore. We just go to the Mayo Clinic.”

“We put a good price on health. We have a little phrase we say, ‘If you're healthy, you're wealthy.’”

How many times have you personally been here?

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“I think it's about 24 times in the past 50 years.”

Obviously, you've seen a lot of history. What do you think about how Rochester in the past 50 years?

“Both Mayo Clinic in Rochester have changed quite a bit. I was here when the Twins won the World Series with Kirby Puckett. I'm a fan of the Green Bay Packers, but I'm getting tired. They get so close every year and at the last moment, they fall apart. One of the best changes I think I've seen is the Gonda Building, I think that's the best thing that happened to them. It's the piece of the puzzle that, for me, completes the campus.

“When you've been doing a puzzle, you can't say it's finished until you get that final piece. I think the Gonda is that piece. Maybe years from now, they may build something else that would enhance Mayo more.”

Coming from a Caribbean island, how do you deal with the weather in Rochester?

“I've seen every month here. I've seen my first blizzard here. I've seen my first ‘whiteout.’ We have hurricanes, not blizzards. We don’t have to shovel the snow, so we enjoy it.”

You have introduced some people from Rochester to Antigua. Can you tell me some about that?

“Don Hadley and his wife Jeannine had O&B Shoes on the Peace Plaza. When my grandfather came here, he used to buy quality shoes from O&B. He was a shoe salesman back home and had his own shoe store. They got to know each other. They told them to come to Antigua. And they came and they were tickled pink. We have a very nice simple country with 365 beaches.”

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“Jeannine was so fascinated with the beach. She chose to bring back shells to put on her desk.”

What made you make and wear the 50th year shirt?

“It’s not often that you can say that you've been coming to a place for 50 years. The doctors all stop and take pictures with me and my shirt. I feel proud. I feel like I backed the horse that won the Kentucky Derby. I’ve been coming here even before it was number one in the world. People say I only come here because of the campus. I say, ‘No.’ They know what they're doing. So for the last six years, Rochester and Mayo Clinic have been number one. So I feel like I won the lottery.”

Asked & Answered is a weekly question-and-answer column featuring people of southeastern Minnesota. Is there somebody you'd like to see featured? Send suggestions to news@postbulletin.com .

Jeff Kiger writes a daily column, "Heard on the Street," in addition to writing articles about local businesses, Mayo Clinic, IBM, Hormel Foods, Crenlo and others. He has worked in Rochester for the Post Bulletin since 1999. Readers can reach Jeff at 507-285-7798 or jkiger@postbulletin.com.
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