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Northfield doctor who served two Moroccan kings dead at 85

Obit phoDoctor VerMirkovic with current King Mohammed VI King Morocco. Provided photo

Obit photo of Doctor Vera Mirkovic with the current King Mohammed VI, King of Morocco. Provided photo

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Updated: October 10, 2012 6:28AM

Vera Mirkovic delighted in fussing over her grandchildren and feeding them her delectable palachinkas, a Balkan crepes suzette.

On closer inspection, people might notice her French-influenced flair. She could accessorize with a scarf tied a dozen different ways, every one of them chic. She spoke five languages. Her carriage was regal.

Dr. Mirkovic had once been a physician to members of the Alawi family, one of the oldest ruling dynasties in the world.

Born in the former Yugoslavia, she survived wartime malnutrition and prejudice to become a doctor who worked in the royal court of two kings of Morocco: King Hassan II and his son, Mohammed VI, the current ruler.

Her kindness — as well as her expertise in treating tuberculosis and other pulmonary problems — led to many knocks on her door in Marrakech as the poor sought help from “Toubiba Vera” (Doctor Vera) with their illnesses.

Her son, also a physician, said he’ll never forget what happened when he accompanied her to a Moroccan bazaar. Dr. Srdjan Mirkovic was visiting his mother on a break from college.

“It was a Third World market, little stalls, people on the ground selling food and vegetables and chicken,” he said. “I heard people screaming, ‘Toubiba! Toubiba!’ And at the same time, one could hear this screeching of a chicken. And I turn around, and there’s this guy running down one of these alleys, and holding a screeching chicken in his hands. He wanted to give it to my mom.

“It turns out that this guy [was] somebody she had taken care of a long time ago, and he saw her and recognized her, so he wanted her to have this chicken. There was this commotion in the marketplace. She was talking to him in Arabic, telling him, ‘You need the chicken for your family.’

“He started kissing her hand to thank her.”

Dr. Mirkovic, who lived in Northfield, died Aug. 21 at age 85 at Westmoreland Nursing Center in Lake Forest.

She was born in Macedonia to parents from Montenegro. Her family fled ahead of German invaders in World War II, taking refuge in her grandparents’ home in the countryside.

“There was just potatoes, nothing else,” her son said, and often she went hungry.

After the war, young Vera wanted to study at the University of Belgrade. But in Marshal Tito’s Yugoslavia, the ambitions of anti-Communists were often thwarted. Her father was jailed for his pro-monarchy views.

She ended up studying in Croatia at the University of Zagreb, “one of the few first women physicians to be trained at that time,” according to her son, and became a respected pulmonologist who specialized in the treatment of tuberculosis.

Dr. Mirkovic and her husband, Branko, a mining engineer, were recruited in the late 1960s to work in Morocco. She provided medical care to the poor. Her work drew attention and respect.

After her husband died, she accepted an offer in 1976 to work for King Hassan II, whose regime was viewed by some as a stable, pro-Western force in a troubled region and criticized by others for his authoritarian rule.

The Moroccan Embassy in Washington confirmed Dr. Mirkovic served the two kings but declined to discuss details, citing royal protocol.

Though she lived outside the palace, Dr. Mirkovic accompanied the royal family on global travels, meeting three French presidents, Queen Elizabeth of England and the Queen Mother, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Pope John Paul II.

“The king would always include my mom and introduce my mom to the dignitaries,” her son said.

Speaking of her work with the poor, he said, “When word got out she was in the palace, not infrequently, they would knock on her door, and they would ask for ‘Toubiba Vera.’ She would never say no. She would try to get them into a hospital or into a clinic. She would ask favors from folks who were in a higher echelon of government.”

Dr. Mirkovic moved to Northfield five years ago to live with her son and his family. She became friends with women she met at St. Basil of Ostrog Serbian Orthodox Church of Mettawa-Lake Forest. They had survived war, family separations and immigration and the challenge of new languages and cultures. Together, they attended church and Serbian festivals, and celebrated Slava, their saint’s feast day.

When Dr. Mirkovic became ill, they brought a Serbian festival to her, right down to the candles, cake and cevapcici sausage.

Dr. Mirkovic is also survived by a sister, Boba Kovincic. Services have been held.

She had a weakness for Kit Kat candy bars, so her son tucked some into her casket, along with two demitasse cups that she had used to enjoy espresso with her late husband. Also alongside her were gifts from her grandchildren, Erin, Matthew and Kyle: a goodbye letter, a toy top and a Moroccan coin.

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