It goes without saying that I learned a lot from my dad. But when my mom died, he and I made a kind of a pact that we would talk to each other every evening on video iChat (he from Albuquerque and I from Champaign Illinois, just as if we were sitting across the dinner table from one another. So I had the rare opportunity to become, in a sense, reacquainted with my dad as an adult.
And I have to say, I learned a lot from observing and talking with my Dad over those 5 years.
But there is one thing that I saw him doing that I still want to learn. He had a real talent for building collaborations and partnerships between people and between institutions. He would almost never directly ask for what he wanted or mandate things from the top down. Instead, he was the great arranger; he would create environments and situations where desirable interconnections could occur; he was constantly encouraging people to follow their dreams and identify their own individual mission or way of contributing, seeing, all the while, how their talents would fit into the larger overall project.
Sometimes, it wouldn’t work; the experiment would fizzle and no reactions took place. But when it did succeed— the result was something remarkable! When people do things together, when they own the idea, the results are so much more widespread, longer lasting, and just more inspiring and fun.
I think my dad was at his happiest when he saw a way for people or groups with similar goals to come together for their mutual benefit. As I told the ECHO team, one time I told him his biggest role in life might be as a catalyst. He smiled and said, “I prefer to think of myself as an enzyme!”
The fact is that, as isolated individuals, we’re pretty smart. But we humans working as a group have become something amazing. Together we’ve created language, music, science and culture. No single one of us knows everything, but together, we practice a kind of distributed cognition that transcends both geographical boundaries and our individual lifespans.
Of all the people I know, my father was the one most willing to trust in the power of that distributed, collective intelligence.
I suspect that each one of us feels, deep in our genomes, an urgent imperative to transcend our individual selves, to know that we are part of something larger, of something that lasts longer than an individual lifetime.
My father was fortunate to have been a contributing member of the amazing and transcendent human project we call Science.
And he was a teacher whose many students have gone on to mentor their own students, each of whom is now making his or her own unique contribution to the world.
He was a father, who gave my brother and me, not just half our respective DNA, but also a strong sense of ethics, fairness, loyalty, a love of learning for its own sake, and a ethos of kindness and tolerance toward fellow human beings.
He fully embraced this university, the medical school, the Albuquerque community through Rotary, and the state of New Mexico and enthusiastically participated in its classrooms, laboratories, clinics, meeting rooms, and politics.
And he was fortunate enough to have lived long enough to see the medical school grow from a ‘repurposed 7-up bottling plant + mortuary’ into the multi-acre Health Sciences Center we see around us here tonight, a Health Sciences Center known throughout the world for its innovations in problem-based learning, multi-disciplinary education, and dedication to health care in rural communities. And my dad had the satisfaction of knowing that he contributed to the infrastructure upon which today’s Health Sciences Center was built.
And, if love is a small slice of the unimaginably powerful creative force in the universe, then my dad had a very large share of that creative loving force in him. He was intensely passionate about everything he did and I think it’s safe to say that no one had what you would call a bland relationship with him. He was a loving and lovable person who left himself open to the world, both to its joys and its painful parts.
He lived a full life yet he never became cynical, and he never lost his idealism. And I think that’s why he was so inspiring to so many of us.
I think the best way we can honor his memory is to live passionately, to enjoy learning for its own sake, to be true to our ideals, to dream big, and to recognize our own unique contributions to this beautiful creative group project we call humanity.