Last Friday evening I attended the retirement dinner of a colleague, who also happens to be my mentor and friend. After 35 years in medical practice, he decided the time had come to down-shift his career in pediatrics.
Although we’ve kept in touch over the years, I hadn’t realized the full extent of my colleague’s professional activities until a host of speakers announced his accolades. Domestically, he had moved from the practice of primary care pediatrics into what was back then the ground-breaking specialty of evaluating physically and sexually abused children. Internationally, he was instrumental in opening a dialogue with a number of pediatric specialists in Siberia. Through these efforts he developed a global network of professional relationships which continue to this day. Over the span of his career, he has also been active in social justice, advocating universal healthcare coverage and global nuclear disarmament.
Those who spoke on his behalf painted the portrait of a humble man, both caring and competent in his field, who was always willing to listen to others in an effort to build consensus to solve the problem at hand. Several social workers commented that initially they thought this board-certified physician was one of their ranks, so unpretentious was he in his demeanor.
In addition to members of the local medical community, several international players attended the celebration. One woman, whose two handicapped children had been among my colleague’s first patients when he practiced in primary care, had flown in from Iowa for the occasion. All told, there must have been well over 120 persons in attendance.
True to form, when my friend rose to speak, he congratulated everyone in the audience on their efforts to better the lives of children everywhere. “One of the things I’m looking forward to not doing in the future is completing any more 136 forms,” he said, referring to the standard form for reporting child abuse in the state of Connecticut. “And I look forward to that day,” he said, “when none of us will ever have to fill out any such form again.”
Many of us derive meaning in life from our work. If we have been lucky enough to be of service to others during the course of our lives, we can, like my colleague, count ourselves among the truly fortunate.
And me? Let’s just say that I count myself truly fortunate to have crossed paths with an excellent mentor, a good man and a true friend.