I sat down to write my column for the week about baking bread with my children, and instead, I have chosen to introduce you to a gentleman and a scholar, my cherished mentor and pediatrician-hero, Dr. Walter Bundy, Jr.
I made the acquaintance of Dr. Bundy more than twenty years ago when I was enrolled at the Medical College of Virginia. It was his alma mater, too, and that afternoon stands so clear in my memory as though it was yesterday. I shook the hand of a seasoned, grandfatherly pediatrician committed to his private practice and to my education as he posed one question after the next to the new interns. I have never been so grateful for a professor’s recognition:
“Now that one has some common sense to go with her book smarts,” he chuckled as he tipped his stethoscope in my direction. He encouraged me to always remain committed to the books and to my studies. He was certain that the defining feature of a great doctor over a good one was that commitment to scholarly reading. I have seen Dr. Bundy’s library, and while his tomes are not all that made him a great man, they are without a doubt one of the many things that made him a great doctor.
This well read man was also a master story teller. Dr. Bundy was never satisfied to simply heal a child and miss the opportunity to teach patients and their parents. I will remain grateful that he was also a clever diagnostician with experience in treating diseases I will never see. In having heard his stories as the field of pediatrics became the one I know today, I have clinical pearls of wisdom that no textbook could impart.
One of my career highlights is to have served as the Bundy Professor of Community Pediatrics. Because of his profound commitment to children, Dr. Bundy and his many admirers endowed a chair at our alma mater. The faculty member who holds this position is to serve as a bridge between the ivory tower of the medical school and the community pediatricians. It remained a frequent prayer of mine that he might see the fruits of his labors in the opening of a full service, free standing hospital for children where we could all work along side one another. Instead, I suppose he’ll be the one, from his heavenly perch, to keep nudging the rest of us to remain focused on the hospital he knew our children deserve.
As we stirred flour and kneaded bread around my family’s kitchen table, Dr. Bundy’s presence was palpable when I told the children of his passing. He was a person who exemplified the parent-pediatrician that I want to be, and it felt good to explain the many reasons why. His obituary listed countless accomplishments, but in the end, there was one sentence that summarized my enduring love and respect for him: Dr. Bundy was not an ordinary man. In his extraordinary life, there is now a restful peace, and a new audience for the stories he has written on my heart.
Gayle Schrier Smith, MD