Dr. Manuel L. daSilva (center) was a prominent figure in Bristol. Here he is pictured with fellow Bristol residents Patrick Conley (left) and Ros Bosworth, Jr.
Dr. daSilva was best known as a physician in town, working at the Bristol County Medical Center from 1963 to 1998. He came to know generations of local families and was often very generous with his services regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.
He also garnered notoriety as a staunch supporter of the Portuguese community here in Bristol and throughout the region, and as a passionate student of the inscriptions on Dighton Rock in Berkeley, Mass., where some believe the Portuguese landed and created the first European colony in New England. He wrote a book on that subject in 1971 titled “Portuguese Pilgrims and Dighton Rock” and presented countless lectures on the subject.
Dr. daSilva also gained acclaim for his work on Portuguese television and radio programs, like “The Portuguese in New England” and “The Portuguese Around Us.”
Fred Pacheco, a Bristol resident and longtime friend, said Dr. daSilva was “a very unique individual” and likely “the most dynamic immigrant that ever came from Portugal.”
“This is a great loss for the Portuguese in America,” Mr. Pacheco said. “Actually, a great loss for immigrants in the world.”
Mr. Pacheco said he first met Dr. daSilva in 1968 and quickly realized how special he was. He said the native of Portugal worked tirelessly for the good of all people and never for fame or recognition.
“He was a humble man, very humble,” Mr. Pacheco said.
He said Dr. daSilva was also able to motivate the people around him, often times in the pursuit of a greater good. Mr. Pacheco told a story about how Dr. daSilva helped establish the club, The Academy of Codfish in New England. Mr. Pacheco said the club was focused on raising money to help the poor and indigent around town and around the world.
“It was an excuse to meet and help people. In 10 years we raised $80,000 to help different people, orphans, other people,” Mr. Pacheco said.
Dr. daSilva grew up in the small village of Caviao in Portugal — a village so small it did not have a road, said Mr. Pacheco — and arrived in the United States in 1946. He arrived in Bristol in the early 1960s and was said to love the town right from the start.
Mr. Pacheco said Portuguese people just arriving in Bristol and without money to afford doctor visits would often see Dr. daSilva and receive exams at no cost. He later offered free physicals to area athletes. As recent as Oct. 8, Dr. daSilva offered free medical consultations to people in his hometown via Skype, an online connection that allows people to see and speak with each other over the internet. He also reportedly planned to offer another online session on Friday.
His interests in addition to medicine were many. He was very interested in Dighton Rock, and in 1989 published “Columbus Was 100 percent Portuguese.” He reportedly visited the Vatican Library in Rome and found evidence that Christopher Columbus was of Portuguese origin. In 2006, he published the book “Christopher Columbus was Portuguese,” which later became a feature film titled “Christopher Columbus, the Enigma.”
Dr. daSilva helped establish museums here in the U.S. and in Portugal; he also had Fiberglass recreations made of Dighton Rock — they were fabricated in Bristol — and sent all over the world.
Just days before his death, Dr. daSilva sent a package to Mr. Pacheco containing information about two scientists in Pittsburgh, Pa., who were experts at deciphering inscriptions on cemetery stones. Mr. Pacheco said his friend wanted to have the men come and study Dighton Rock.
“He was always active, busy. … He complained about inactive people,” Mr. Pacheco said, adding that Dr. daSilva remained involved and interested in his pursuits up until a week or so before his death.
“He was a great man. I am very lucky to have met him … I have been feeling empty this last week. … This is a man who should not die.”