Gene is from Cherry Valley, Arkansas; somewhere between Wynne and Jonesboro on Hwy 1. As a boy he fished in a creek on Crowley's Ridge. He remembers his mother frying the small fish, bones and all, to feed their family. His rural farm childhood shaped him, and although I don't know much about his service as an officer in the Marine Corps, I imagine that shaped him as well.
I met Gene when I interviewed for my current job. He jestingly boasted to my father, a neonatologist, that I was to be his replacement ten years ago. I felt proud to be set up for that position. I learned that he had three children and 16 grandchildren; a fact that left me in awe. Now he has six great-grandchildren.
When I first started my job after residency, I was naturally fear based. Gene was my rock. I showed him so many cases in the first couple of years I worried for him; but his patience, calm and good counsel kept me coming back for more wisdom. He never gets angry, I heard the gross room physician assistants say. He never gets flustered, I heard the histotechnologists say. If he raises his voice, said the collective voice of the laboratory, then something really bad has happened. He doesn't need to get mad; he just subtly draws boundaries, and you get it. He quietly leads, and people follow.
So I followed, and I learned. He taught me when to dig down deep in the books, and when to send a case out for expert consultation (rarely). He taught me how to subtly and sweetly correct a clinician when he or she was missing the point. He taught me when to let go of my dogged pursuit of righteousness for a greater good, always keeping the patient in mind. That's why we physicians are ultimately here: for the patients. Being right among our peers is less important than being of service to our community. Early in my career one of my diagnoses was attacked by an outside pathologist, and he stood by my side and defended me to show me that this is what the world can be like, and that part of our job is to protect the truth.
There is an art to medicine, one that is lost in our current climate. Gene is the embodiment of that art. I have gathered over the years that he is a religious man, but he doesn't wear it on his sleeve; it is discerned through his actions. He retires tomorrow, and I am heart broken to lose him as a consultant. He went part time a couple of years ago, and I am constantly reviewing the schedule to see if he is here when I am. When I bumped into him in the hall yesterday I realized it is time to let go. He has promised to visit, but he will no longer be a fixture here. Retirement is not just an end, as I learned from my father at the ocean last week. It is the beginning of a new journey.
I've been grieving lately, taking my own stroll through the five steps - denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. I'm finding comfort in the knowledge that his qualities and characteristics will live through myself, my partners, and my future partner joining us next month; our first hire in the ten years I have been here. I need to teach her some of what I learned from him; a job as much daunting as exciting.
The best servants of God leave the strongest imprint on this Earth. Their legacy is the future. A part of Gene's legacy is the countless number of patients he has helped from behind the scenes. While I will miss Gene's daily presence, I look forward to witnessing his next step in life, and know that he will only be a text away. People have real ages and chronological ages. His visage belies his actual age by about two decades, so I am comforted that he will be around for a long time in case I ever need him.
I wish him well. I wish that he will enjoy his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. That he will continue to honor and support and enjoy time with his wife in the same way I have witnessed throughout the years. That he will find a way to continue his chosen profession in a new configuration; once a doctor, always a doctor. That he will know that his partners revere him, and that we will continue to be there for him whenever he needs us, as he was there for us in countless ways throughout his career.
Gene Singleton is one of the best fathers, friends, and pathologists. He's the best mentor anyone could ever hope for, and if I can be half of the mentor and pathologist that he was to future members of this group then I will be proud. I'm going to miss you Gene! Hail to the Chief:). Sniff.
Much love, Elizabeth