SSCI Founders Medal Recipient’s Address (1996)

I am, of course, pleased as a brass player at Bayreuth to be the recipient of the Founders Medal of the Southern Society for Clinical Investigation. Delightful as it may be for the honoree, an award such as this is always undeserved for at least two reasons. First, there are always scores of others who could just as well have been selected for the honor. Second, medicine and science are now completely collective disciplines; thus, anyone who has succeeded in them has done so because of the work of others.

I have been fortunate, during the 28 years since completing my training, to work with many colleagues whose talents and labors have made possible whatever modest success I’ve had in this business. The table below is a list of their names. I hope I have not omitted anyone. I would like to thank them for the opportunity of collaborating with them.

colleagues
There are two people who deserve special thanks. My wife and co-worker, Sandra Sabatini, has felt like a character from Sartre’s No Exit for the past 20 years. At home, at work, on the road-there I’ve been. Somehow, she’s survived and prospered. She even showed up here. If no man is a hero to his valet, it’s because nobody has one anymore. Of course, no man has ever been a hero to his wife. To be tolerated rates as an accomplishment. I may be making a very big leap by thinking that she tolerates me, but I thank her for all her help and support nonetheless.

Thirty years ago, I found myself a fellow in Don Seldin’s lab in Dallas, surrounded by the most talented group of weirdos and misfits I’ve ever had the privilege of associating with. Tied, with Floyd Rector, for the second weirdest was Manny Martinez. I’ve already had my crack at him, so I won’t say anymore about him.

The weirdest, of course, was Dr. Seldin himself. I hasten to remind you that weird means “of strange or extraordinary character.” None of us had ever met anybody like him. A hyperkinetic polymath, he was a cross between Isaac Newton and Genghis Kahn, or maybe it was Einstein and Napoleon. He’d probably prefer the latter duo. He was demanding, intolerant of hokum, which he often defined as any opinion not his, interested in everything, and impossible to fool-except by Fred Coe, who could convince him of anything merely by crowding 300 syllables into a 30-word sentence. While Dr. Seldin always demanded the best from his trainees, he immediately recognized quality when he got it or saw it.

What Dr. Seldin had above all was taste. Unlike almost everyone else I’ve met in any profession, he was not blinded by superficialities. There are people in academic medicine who have built successful careers by having the right barber, or the right tailor, or by going to the right school. None of these impressed Dr. Seldin. All he cared about was whether you had the intelligence and motivation to do something worthwhile. If you did, he’d drive you like a donkey on Santorini to get you to deliver what you didn’t know you had. And it worked. His pupils have accomplished more than those of any American academic physician of the post-war era. They’ve done it in practice, in research, and in teaching. No one I know of has had the positive impact on as many medical careers as he has.

Dr. Seldin has received virtually every honor that can fall to an academic physician. I think, however, that near the top of his list must be that, of the 24 recipients of the SSCI’s Founders Medal, 5 were his students. Of the 7 awards made since 1990, 4 have gone to Dr. Seldin’s trainees. He, of course, received the medal in 1975. I have no doubt that I would not have been able to make an academic career had I not met Dr. Seldin. Therefore, I thank both the Society and Dr. Seldin for this award.

Am J Med Sci. 1996 Jun;311(6):257-8.

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