Twin City Times- Thursday, October 16th, 2008
Mayor's Corner #56
Tomorrow, Friday, October 17 at 9:30 A.M. a bridge dedication ceremony will be held at the Franco-American Heritage Center in honor of Dr. Bernard Lown, formerly of Lewiston. The former South Bridge connecting Lewiston and Auburn has been re-named the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge as the result of an act of the Maine Legislature and signed into law by Governor John Baldacci.
This bridge honoring Dr. Lown has become reality primarily as a result of the efforts of Mr. Allen N. Harvie, a former Edward Little teacher who is a graduate of Bates College. He is the one who learned of this extraordinary man, Dr. Bernard Lown, and worked tirelessly to insure that the rest of us in this community of Lewiston-Auburn learn about Dr. Lown and recognize him for his many accomplishments.
That’s correct; Dr. Lown has accomplished much in his 87 years of life. He is best known for having developed the heart defibrillator and for being awarded the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize with his Russian counterpart, Dr. Evgueni Chazov. Together they founded the organization International Physicians for the Prevention of War. They grew the organization to 150,000 plus physicians throughout the world. They were able to gather enough data to demonstrate that the world could not survive a nuclear war. There weren’t enough physicians and hospitals to care for those who might survive the attack and as a result all would die. Aside from this invention and this organization, Dr. Lown has developed other inventions to assist cardiologists worldwide and he has formed other organizations to care for people worldwide.
I wish to first refer you to various means of learning more about this man. First, I would encourage everyone to conduct a Google search on him as there is a wealth of information about him and his accomplishments on line.
He is the author of two books, the first is entitled The Lost Art of Healing: Practicing Compassion in Medicine and the other was just released in July of this year and is entitled Prescription for Survival: A Doctors Journey to End Nuclear Madness. I would highly encourage anyone to read these two books. In doing so, you will come to know this extraordinary man as much as one can by reading his books.
To learn more about Dr. Lown and to see and hear him speak, I wish to refer you to his official web site: http://www.bernardlown.org. On the home page of this site you will be able to view a short documentary about Dr. Lown filmed and produced by Craig Atkinson and Ishita Gupta of Truth Be Known Films.
Another means of learning more about Dr. Lown is through the Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN) program that came out last week called Conversations with Maine, hosted by Frank Ferrel. Ferrel conducted the interview in Dr. Lown’s living room in Chestnut Hill, Mass. To view it go to the following URL http://www.mpbn.net/conversations/bernard+lown.html. I highly recommend it to get a true feeling of this most extraordinary man.
Now that I have directed you to various means of obtaining information about this man who stands out above giants I have come to know in my life, I wish to write today about Dr. Lown, the man I have gotten to know over the past year and a half.
When Al Harvie first told me he would like to have the South Bridge re-named in honor of Dr. Lown, I first had to find him. After his graduation from Lewiston High School in 1938, he attended the University of Maine at Orono. Through UMO’s Alumni Association, I was able to get contact information. Even with the information I still didn’t know if he was still alive. I called the number and I was pleased to be able to talk to him after his wife Louise answered.
I told Dr. Lown of Al Harvie’s recommendation and I asked him if he would agree to have the South Bridge named in his honor. He told me he would be pleased to receive such an honor. In this initial conversation, he told me of three addresses where he had lived in Lewiston as a young person. He said he would walk through the Bates College campus on his way to Lewiston High School on Central Avenue. As we closed the short conversation, he invited me to his home should I be in the Boston area. He said “we will break bread together,”
In a letter to me dated August 23, 2007, he wrote: “Whatever the outcome with the bridge, (as we were awaiting joint city council approval of a resolution to bring to the Maine Legislature as the bridge is owned by the State of Maine) your high regard is ultimately what matters. Much of my adult life I have tried to promote human understanding, whether at the bedside caring for patients or on the global arena helping diffuse passions leading to mass violence. Indeed it was all about building bridges.” “I enclose a book, still in print that delineates my philosophy of medicine and the art of caring.” He signed the letter, “With appreciation, Bernard Lown.” I am in the midst of reading it and I would recommend that every physician and anyone who provides a service to people should read it.
In December of last year he sent me another book by The My Hero Project entitled “MY HERO,” which is a compilation of short stories by extraordinary people about the heroes who inspired them. There are stories by such famous people as Muhammad Ali, Yogi Berra, Michael J. Fox, Mayor Ruddolph Giuliani, Senator John McCain, Ronald Reagan and many others including Dr. Lown. Dr. Lown told me he wanted to write about his true hero, his wife of 62 years whose name is Louise. When he told her that, she said to him in a kidding manner, “if you write about me I will divorce you.”
When he moved here from Lithuania he first lived at his uncle’s house in Lewiston. His uncle was the owner of Lown Shoe Company in Auburn. Knowing that his wife’s name was Louise and knowing that many French-Canadian girls are named Louise, such as my wife’s and my daughter’s middle names, I figured that this Jewish boy might have met a nice little French-Canadian girl named Louise and he wound up marrying her. Well, I was wrong.
One day during a phone conversation with him, I asked him how he met his wife. He told me, “That is a long story for another day.” In anticipation of hearing a French name, I asked him what his wife’s maiden name was, he responded, Lown. I said to him, did you marry a cousin? He said, yes! I said so did I! He said that when he lived with his uncle he befriended his cousin Louise as they were teens at the time and lived in the same house. He said they both went off to college and at some point thereafter, they fell in love and were married. I suspect that it was love at first sight.
So, he married his first cousin and I married my second cousin. The more we talked, the more we found some similarities. His and my birthday is June 7. He has two daughters and a son and so do I. He is an activist and I have been in the past with various causes.
Well, the occasion to go break bread with him came in April of this year. I had occasion to go to Boston with Rita Dube, Executive Director of the Franco-American Heritage Center. I called Dr. Lown to see if we could meet somewhere to have coffee in the morning as Rita and I had been invited to have lunch with Mrs. Ségolène Royal, the lady who ran for President of France and lost to President Nicolas Sarcozy. Dr. Lown invited Rita and me to their home. We had a mid-morning breakfast with them. It was the first time we met in person. He showed me around his home, which is like a museum. There is one corner that is dedicated to his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with photos of that event. There are also photos of him sitting across the table from Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
My impression that day was of a loving couple who have supported each other through numerous trials and tribulations with admiration and love for each other. What a beautiful couple!
In talking with him that morning, he told us that his father had come from Lithuania and his uncle gave the job to his father to run the shoe shop in Auburn. In 1937 there was the great shoe strike. Many of the shoe shop workers were picketing. At the time Dr. Lown was 15 years old. His father asked him if he would come to work at the shop and he would pay him $15.00 a week. Dr. Lown said he liked going to the movies and his allowance was 50 cents a week, so he took the job. He only worked there a couple of weeks. He said one day, he was walking by the strikers and some of the workers who were breaking the strike we walking in. One short French-Canadian man yelled out “Scabs” to the strike breakers. He said the shop owners had hired these “big goons” from away to ensure the strik breakers could go in to work. He said he saw this “goon” punch this little French-Canadian man and he fell to the ground with a bloody nose. He said the police came and hauled the little Frenchman to jail.
Dr. Lown said this action incensed him and it became for him a very contentious issue between him and his father. He said his father told him they were paying competitive wages. That wasn’t the issue with Dr. Lown so much as the fact that it was unfair for this poor man to be hauled off to jail at the hands of this goon hired by shop owners. He said he followed this case all through the courts and it is what started his activism.
His activism continued throughout his adult life. What started with the shoe strike in Auburn in 1937 led to his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. He is still very much an activist for the sake of humankind.
When I next met Dr. and Mrs. Lown was at the Maine State House for the signing of the bill by Governor John Baldacci naming the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge. It should be noted that when I first asked him about the name of the bridge, we had the letters “Dr.” He said he preferred that we drop the word doctor. While Pat and I were conversing with him and Louise in the Speaker of the House’s office, I said to him “you work out, don’t you?” The reason why I said that was back in April when I was at his home, I had my photo taken with him and his wife. When I put my hand on the triceps of his arm, I noticed that it was solid. He answered that he works out 40 minutes a day. He does some work on a rowing machine for his back, some cardio exercises and 50 push-ups a day. At his age of 87 years, he is a remarkable man who practices what he preaches as a cardiologist.
My wife Pat and I were invited to join Dr. & Mrs. Lown for afternoon tea at their summer place that they have been going to for the past 70 years. It was built by her father. Upon our arrival, we were met by the Lowns and their son Fred, daughter in law and Grand-daughter. During the initial conversations, the subject of religion came up and his son said his father “is not a very religious man.” I responded by saying “he has been doing God’s work all his life.” That afternoon is when we learned more about Louise who traveled the world with him. He said she was as much of an activist as he was. We spent a beautiful afternoon with Bernard and Louise and our friendship continues to grow.
On September thirteenth of this year, Pat and I along with Al Harvie were the personal guests of Dr. and Mrs. Lown at a wonderful gala that was held in his honor at a Boston hotel. It was a wonderful evening that I report on in my September 18th Mayor’s Corner Column. With over 400 people in attendance, many of them physicians from throughout the world, is where we witnessed how highly regarded this man is.
I could go on and on talking about this man. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have gotten to know him not only because of his many accomplishments but also as a friend. My only regret is to not having known Bernard and Louise my entire life. I consider it a blessing to know him as a man who stands out above giants of this world and to know him as a man who has been doing God’s work all his life.
He dedicated his latest book to two people and the inscription reads as follows: “To my wife, Louise, without whom this journey would have been inconceivable.” “To my friend, Eugene Chazov, without whom the journey would have been impossible.”
I now know this man, Bernard Lown, as a man full of compassion for all of humankind. We all should be thankful that he has been sent to pass our way by God Almighty to do His work.
Now let us celebrate the dedication of this peace bridge in honor of Dr. Lown. May we always recall this man who continues to serve us through his inventions and activism because he is a man of love and compassion.
Bernard and Louise, there is a very high place in heaven that awaits you. You both have earned the eternal reward that awaits all of us who respond to God’s will. May God bless you both with continued longevity and good health as you continue to serve all of us, God’s children.