Last week my husband called my attention to a local news item. “An old friend of yours has died. Not a friend, someone you used to work with.”
“Who?” I asked of course, then looked where he was pointing. It wasn’t really a friend or coworker, exactly, it was the former medical director of the children’s medical facility where I had worked for 36 years, the person after whom the place is now named. He was 91 years old, so his death wasn’t a surprise, but I was sad nonetheless.
Until his retirement 26 years ago, Dr. M had devoted half a day a week to what was then called “brace clinic” at our facility, monitoring the progress of children with cerebral palsy, fitting them with the long leg braces that were then the standard of care, recommending surgery if needed and often doing the surgery for free if the parents couldn’t afford to pay. As the then president of our board pointed out at the ceremony marking the renaming of the center in his honor, that half day a week, that could have been used to serve paying patients, represented a tithe of the doctor’s income. Before he retired, Dr. M lined up replacement orthopedists to volunteer their time, but it took two of them, each working one afternoon a month, to take his place. By then, the Center had applied to become a Medicaid provider and long leg braces were being phased out and replaced with more modern orthotics.
Despite the tithe of his working hours and the other donated services, Dr. M apparently did well for himself financially. His family has its own charitable foundation, which donated a good bit of the financing needed for expanding the center several years after Dr. M retired.
My husband accompanied me to the funeral home for the visitation. There was, as I expected, a long line of people waiting to sign the visitor’s book and speak to the family. While waiting, I whiled away the time chatting with E, one of my first clients there. “You need to start working with this child right away,” my boss told me after observing E at clinic, “He doesn’t talk at all, and he’s six.” E’s problem, it turned out, was that he was overwhelmed by Dr. M. As I learned once he started speech, the problem was not getting E to talk, it was getting him to shut up. We reminisced about Dr. M, E repeating an often made observation, “You never needed to ask if he was in the building. If he was there, you heard him.”
“How old is your daughter now?” I asked. “Five” Almost as old as E when I first met him. “Are you still working as a DJ?”
“No, I’m building custom computers now.” Then he shared with me his desire to get on the board of directors of the center. I wish him well. I think it would be an excellent idea.
I finally work my way up to where the family is and introduce myself. Dr. M had several sons and each one introduces himself to the guests and shakes hands. The oldest one, when he hears where he used to work, tells me that the Center is what his father had been proudest of. “He should be,” I replied, still not able to get used to using the past tense.
All of us have an impact on the people around us. Most of us affect the world for the good, in some small way. Some people go above and beyond that. Their influence goes farther and wider, and when they pass, it’s like a light has gone out of the world.