Posted by: N.S. Palmer | November 26, 2016

A Life That Made a Difference


Next Monday, it will be seven years since my Dad passed away.

Even after seven years, I still feel as if he’s with me every day. Remembering him makes me proud, and sad, and reminds me of the example he set for me. It’s a lot to live up to.

Some years before he passed away, we were in the car and the conversation turned somehow to his mortality. I told him that I hoped he would live as long as he wanted to live. To a degree, I think that he did. And what a life it was.

The small town kid from Minnesota became a war hero. Then he finished college in three years and went to medical school. He became a distinguished internist. The Indianapolis hospital where he saw patients gave an annual award to the doctor who made the highest percentage of correct diagnoses, but Dad won it year after year until the hospital finally declared him “permanent champion.”


Dad taught a whole generation of younger physicians. For many years, you couldn’t walk 10 feet in an Indianapolis hospital without bumping into a doctor who had been one of his students.

If you were one of Dad’s patients and you had a 9am appointment, you saw him at 9am unless you were late. He treated indigent patients without charge. He was a man of science but he also believed in the personal side of medical practice. He knew it mattered. It was how he believed in treating people: with respect, compassion, and consideration.

He wasn’t a pushover by any means. Sometimes he was too frank in speaking his mind, especially about bureaucratic interference with medical treatment. It might have served his career better if he’d been a little more tactful. But he said what he meant, and meant what he said.

He was also a community leader. Apart from elected offices such as the Indianapolis School Board, he was an officer or volunteer for numerous civic organizations. After he retired from medical practice, he delivered meals for Meals on Wheels. He worked as a volunteer “scientific expert” at the Indiana State Museum, answering questions for school tours. He was always giving speeches in one place or another.

I’ll tell you something more personal. I don’t write much about personal events in this blog, but for this, I’ll make an exception.

When Dad and my original mother split up, it took me by surprise. All of my friends’ parents were divorced but I never thought that my parents would also get divorced. I should have seen it coming. They were intellectually but not emotionally well matched.

The day that I learned about it, Dad moved out of the house into an apartment, in the shabby little building shown in the photo.


That afternoon, he picked up me at school. We went to dinner in a restaurant near his apartment, where I spent the night. About 3am, I woke up and vomited. I cried. Dad hugged me. And he cried. I had never seen him cry before that. This was something so terrible, so shattering, that even Dad’s composure broke down. I hugged him back.

I only saw him cry one other time. When he turned 70, all the family and most of his friends gave him a surprise birthday party.

On behalf of all of us, my brother Steve read a tribute to him that I had written. Dad cried, in front of everyone. He knew he was loved. He knew how much of a difference he had made — to us, to our community, to our country, and to our world.

He still makes that difference. I don’t go a day without wondering if I’m living up to his example, or if I’ll ever make that kind of difference in the world and in people’s lives. I hope so.

Dad, wherever you are, thank you.


  1. What a nice remembrance of your father. I remember when he passed; it’s hard to believe it’s been seven years now.

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