Manuel L. daSilva, M. D., prominent physician, historian, author, and activist in the Portuguese-American community, died early Sunday morning, Oct. 21, at R. I. Hospital following an illness of a few days. He was 86 years of age.
Dr. daSilva was associated with the Bristol County Medical Center for over 35 years, beginning in 1963. Prior to that he practiced for three years at the Lahey Clinic in Boston, and a year at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford. He also served as medical director at the R. I. Veterans Home for 21 years. He retired in 1998.
His death came as a shock to his many friends and acquaintances. One of his closest friends, Fred M. Pacheco, describes him as the “most important Portuguese-American immigrant of our time.”
Dr. daSilva spent much of his retirement continuing his life-long pursuit of the truth in both history and medicine.
His last encounter with his public was a medical program via “Skype” on Oct. 8th, Columbus Day, when he interacted with an audience in his hometown in Portugal. He and the audience appeared in person over the internet screen while discussing medical questions and answers. This was one of several avenues he used to communicate, including radio, print and TV.
He was born in the village of Caviao, near Vale de Cambra, Portugal, on Sept. 5, 1926, the son of Capt. Manuel Martins daSilva and Luciana Soares daPina daSilva. In addition to his wife Silvia Tavares Jorge, he is survived by two sons, Manuel and his wife Kelly (Ahearn), and their daughters Victoria and Alexandra; and Jose and his wife Christine (Tracy) and their children, James and Katelyn.
Dr. DaSilva came to this country in 1946 and lived in Brooklyn, N. Y. He worked at several jobs, eventually serving as a secretary at the Portuguese General Consulate while attending night school. In 1948 he enrolled in Washington Square College of New York University and was graduated as a biology major in 1952. He enrolled that year in the medical school of Coimbra University in Portugal, where he graduated with distinction in 1957.
Dr. daSilva was known around the world for his study of the inscriptions on Dighton Rock in Berkley, Mass., where a vessel commanded by Miguel Corte Real is believed to have landed in 1511 and in turn became the first European colony in New England.
In 1971 he authored the book “Portuguese Pilgrims and Dighton Rock,” and subsequently presented more than 400 lectures in universities and to cultural groups on the subject. He and his wife Silvia were deeply involved in the process of preserving the historic marker on the banks of the Taunton River, and the museum in which it is now located. His last appearance at “The Rock” was on his 86th birthday in September.
A highlight of his inquiries into history came when the DaSilvas visited the Vatican Library in Rome and found evidence that Christopher Columbus was of Portuguese origin.
In 1989 he published in English and Portuguese his conclusion that “Columbus Was 100% Portuguese;” in 1991 an article “The Religious and Mythological Powers in the name of Cristovao Colon;” in 1992 “Pope Alexander VI and Cristofom Colon;” in 1994 “I made another discovery, the Portuguese name Cristofom Colon on the Second Papal Bull of May 4, 1493.
Other daSilva publications were the “Electricity of Love,” “The True Antilles, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia,” and “The First Queen of Bristol, Rhode Island Was 100% Portuguese.
While in Portugal in 2006 he and his wife published the book “Christopher Columbus was Portuguese.” This became an immediate best seller and attracted a well-known continental movie producer, Manuel Oliveira, who adopted the book into a movie titled “Christopher Columbus, the Enigma.” The film won a gold medal at the Venice Film Festival in Italy, and in 2008 had a successful tour in the U. S.
In 2001 a museum was organized and inaugurated in his honor by his admirers, at his birthplace in Caviao, Vale de Cambra, in northern Portugal. His personal papers and memorabilia are preserved in a newly-built museum building which adjoins the family homestead. This is the site where his audience last met for medical advice on Columbus Day, Oct. 8th.
He also founded several civic and cultural organizations including the Knights of Corte Real, the Portuguese-American Federation, the Academy of Codfish of New England, and the Bristol Fourth of July Chief Marshal’s Association. several TV programs devoted to medicine and Portuguese immigrant life.
Among his honors was selection as chief marshal of the Bristol Fourth of July parade in 1975, and his induction into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2010. He was named to the prestigious Portuguese Order of Prince Henry the Navigator in 1968, and received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities at Rhode Island College in 1972.
Many cultural organizations recognized his efforts, including the International Institute of Providence, the Prince Henry Club of R.I., the Portuguese Continental Union of the U. S., the Dom Luiz Filipe Beneficial Association, the Bristol Sports Club, the Portuguese Geographic Society of Lisbon, the Bristol Historical Society, and the Portuguese-American Citizen Committee of R. I.
All are invited to attend a Mass of Christian Burial, Thursday Oct 25th at 11 AM at St. Elizabeth Church, 577 Wood Street. Burial will be private.
Memorial donations may be made to: American Heart Association 222 Richmond St Providence RI 02903. Arrangements are by the George Lima Funeral Home.