A few weeks ago as part of my job in public relations for Novant Health, I attended an appreciation service for a retired Novant Health physician, Dr. Thomas Brown. I don’t know him and had never met him.
I didn’t know what to expect. He’s dying.
Dr. Brown is 76 and has late-stage lung cancer. He’s lived his professional life as an OB-GYN doctor. He just saw his job as helping women. His mother wanted him to help women, so he did.
A small crowd was waiting when he arrived at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center conference center. He walked briskly toward nurse Tonya Rawley, one of the organizers along with nurse Michelle Wardlow. And the man who’d delivered more than 11,000 babies said that he wasn’t sure how this was all going to go. More specifically: Could he handle it?
The gathering was in an everyday meeting room festooned with refreshments, balloons, a banner to sign, framed photos of Brown with family, friends, co-workers, moms and babies. It took him 20 minutes of greetings, hugs, stories, handshakes and laughter before he even crossed the threshold to more of the same.
I was drawn in. Along with everyone else.
For two-plus hours, Brown held court as dozens of people came to express their support, appreciation and adoration. Patients whose babies he delivered 30 and 40 years ago arrived. Nurses and fellow physicians from competing health systems that he trained in residency programs rearranged their schedules to show up in his honor. Novant Health leaders like Executive Vice President and Chief Medical officer Dr. Pam Oliver, who had been one of his residents when she was training to be an OB-GYN, was on hand. They all came to share his light and laughter, to hug him tight, to share memories.
Before the room got too crowded, he read a little something aloud.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when he was done. Including mine.
I called him a few days later and asked if I could write this, envisioning an article titled “Advice on how to live from a dying doctor” or something like that.
He said it would be OK. And I’m here at a keyboard, at a loss for words. So I’ll just end with a few of his that he read that day.
“My love for you is never-ending,” he said. “As long as you keep me in your hearts, I will never be dead. Let me live in your hearts and you will have made me immortal.”
Bonnie Davis is a senior public relations specialist for Novant Health based in Winston-Salem.
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