Bessie O’Dea Clemenson on Uncle Tom

Uncle Tom by Bessie O’Dea Clemenson

    I have vivid memories of Uncle Tom coming to visit. When I was a teenager, he stayed in the bed and breakfast my family was running at the time.  When I first learned of Uncle Tom’s passing on, I closed my eyes and the word that popped into my head was dignified.  Uncle Tom was so dignified. 

    My most vivid memory is Uncle Tom walking down the driveway wearing an Irish sweater on a cool August morning.  I took it in, and I remember admiring how handsome and dignified my surgeon uncle was.  There were stories of his canoeing trips with my father, who was his brother, and of their childhood, but what strikes me in reflecting on these memories is that loving connection between the two brothers.  How he loved my father, and how my father loved Uncle Tom – and it was not in a demonstrative manner-but the kind of love that lasts – loyal and patient.  

     Dad was invigorated by his visits. He was so happy to be around Uncle Tom. Uncle Tom had a way of engaging me in conversation that was similar to Grandma O’Dea, his mother, and the Kennedy sisters- two of my cousins. They all have those thoughtful eyes that made this awkward child/teenager feel special, like they were really interested in what I had to say.

     Later, Uncle Tom hosted me and Robie, my sister who is also a doctor as I am, for a visit at work. We were able to observe Uncle Tom in the OR performing many procedures, including the complicated Whipple procedure.  I gleaned that Uncle Tom was well known for his surgical skills.  It was so cool seeing how much he loved his work, was so committed to it and confident and caring.  I remember so clearly his bedside manner as he made rounds. Uncle Tom was calm, confident and so very kind.  I thought to myself, yes-I want to do this type of work.  

     I remember proudly following him around over his workday and how tired my legs were.  During medical school I would brag of how skilled my Uncle Tom was in performing the Whipple, only understanding then how complicated this procedure really was. 

     Recently, I have heard about Uncle Tom through stories told by my mom and Dad.  It was heartwarming knowing that Uncle Tom was present in both of my parents’ lives.  I heard tales of golfing, shared meals and I always sensed that he was looking out for everyone in the family as the wise physician in his retirement.  There was not a conversation with my father where Uncle Tom was not mentioned – a book he was reading, Uncle Tom’s thoughts on a medical topic, or a fun outing or gathering he enjoyed with Uncle Tom.  The lasting connection between Dad and Uncle Tom is a beautiful example to me of how we are to be with our family, and I am so grateful to Uncle Tom for the many ways he touched my life.  

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