08 October, 2019


Yesterday would have been my grandfather's 110th birthday. As I have written many times, my greatest and most intractable regret is that both my grandfathers died before I was born. By all accounts, they were exceptional human beings and deeply devoted fathers. I miss them, even though I never met them. They touched my life profoundly by being good parents to my parents.

My grandfather in his office at the U.S. Naval Air Station 
in Hutchinson, Kansas, c. 1950s
My dad posted this in 2013 in honor of his father's birthday:

I cannot allow today to pass without honoring my father, Harold Clifford Brown. Today is his birthday, and if he were still living, he would be 104.

My father died in 1975, and although he rarely spoke of his childhood or his career, I have been able to reconstruct much of it. He was just 66 when he died. I was 27, fresh out of graduate school, and had barely finished my first semester at Utica College, my first job - important only in the sense that we never had a chance to be "adults" together. I am diminished by that.

My father was born in 1909 in the very small town of Crossville in southeast Illinois and not far west of the Wabash River. He was abandoned as an infant by his father. Somehow my grandmother ended up in the even smaller town of Naylor in eastern Missouri, barely ten miles north of Arkansas, where she remarried and had three more children. My sense is there was no real attachment between the new husband and my father, and my father may have been the proverbial unwanted stepchild. He never spoke of these things.

He was schooled and graduated from high school in Naylor. Although he had the opportunity to go to college on a baseball athletic scholarship, he enlisted in the navy in 1927 five months after being graduated from high school. He had signed his papers months earlier but had to wait until he turned 18 in October. Although the Great Depression was a couple of years off, he had grown up very poor. He never had a bicycle, and my mother tells me when she baked him a birthday cake soon after they married, he admitted it was the first birthday cake he had ever had. His family needed money, and he regularly sent half of his pay home to help raise his two half brothers and one half sister.

After basic training, he went to Norfolk for further training as a Machinist Mate and then to New London for submarine school. He reported to Pearl Harbor in 1929 and served there aboard three different submarines, all tiny by today's standards with officers and crew totaling only 30-40 (versus 150 today).

In 1938 he shifted to the surface navy and was assigned to the battleship USS Pennsylvania aboard which he served for two years in Pearl Harbor before returning to the Navy Yard in Norfolk to help "fit out" a brand new ship, the USS Raven, as Engineering Officer. By this time, he had worked his way up from Seaman Apprentice to become a commissioned officer.

The Raven was a minesweeper and part of Operation Torch - the British-American invasion of French North Africa in November of 1942. Think Casablanca. He was there but saw neither Bogart nor Bergman. Operation Torch wasn't smooth sailing by any standard, and many died.

He returned to Norfolk and for the next six months worked convoy protection up and down the east coast and even as far south as Panama. In August of 1943, he was sent to the Pacific theater where he saw action in the Marshall Islands, Saipan, and Guam as Materiel and Operations Officer for a flotilla of landing craft. Still in the Pacific, he received his first command position - the USS Mink. He was a lieutenant at this point, and after assisting with the occupation of Japan, he brought the Mink back to Norfolk.

After a tour of shore duty, he joined the cruiser USS Portsmouth as Main Propulsion Officer. I have the actual official naval message he received aboard telling him of my birth. He then commanded the USS Krishna and the USS Minos, both amphibious ships stationed in Little Creek, VA.

His last command was a reserve training center, and he retired as a Commander in 1958 after serving 30 years, two months, and 27 days and with two dozen decorations and awards. I was nine.

I have no idea how many times my mother must have seen him off as he went back to sea, sometimes in harm's way. She tells me that once the good-bye was said he would never look back as he walked down the pier to board his ship. Navy custom supposedly suggested that to do so would be bad luck. I can't argue; he always came home in spite of some close calls with Japanese torpedoes in the Pacific.

He was an officer and a gentleman, and I often think of and am thankful for his service to our country. More importantly though, I am thankful for his love. He was a good man. There has never been a day when I doubted that love or that he was proud of me, and I am thankful for everything he taught me through his words and his deeds. As I stand here today only one year younger than he when he died, I can only hope that he would still proud of me and that I have lived up to the example he set.
Celebrating his birthday on board his ship
Happy birthday, Daddy. You are deeply missed.


I like to think that they are together now, somewhere. 

More than ever, I feel another sense of loss as the times in which they lived pass out of living memory. When I was my son's age, my friends' grandparents came to our class to speak...about surviving the Holocaust and fighting in World War II, living through Pearl Harbor, Normandy, or Hiroshima. I first thought about being an oncologist when I read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and it seemed not like history—which, to a young child, seemed dusty and black-and-white by definition—whereas these were stories really lived and still told by those who had seen them firsthand. Now I realize that this is one definition of growing old/up—seeing not just those stories, but one's memories, become history. So I repost this in the hopes of keeping at least one memory alive.


03 May, 2017

Letter to Rep. Claudia Tenney Regarding the AHCA Bill

I am writing on behalf of myself and many other concerned pediatricians in Central New York. We are deeply distressed regarding reports suggesting that you may be considering voting in favor of the revised AHCA.

This would be a grave mistake for the health of our community and the people in this area.

I would like to share a personal story. I am the daughter of Thomas G. Brown, the former vice-president, dean and later president of Utica College, who died in 2014. As you may know, since this is not my first attempt at outreach, I grew up in New Hartford. In fact, I grew up on Graffenburg Road, not far from your family, in a house that my father built himself, during his first years on the Utica College faculty.

During those years, my father gradually lost the use of his left arm. He was a survivor of Hodgkin disease, diagnosed when he was 20 years old. He was lucky - his educated, affluent parents had good health insurance and he received truly state-of-the-art treatment. He received radiation therapy from one of the first linear accelerators in the country, at the University of Virginia. He belonged to the first cohort of children, adolescents and young adults who survived cancer in meaningful numbers.

His treatment cured him of cancer but left him with a lifetime of medical complications. After he lost function in his arm, he nearly died from septic shock, a consequence of the removal of his spleen as part of his therapy. I was eight years old. A few years later, he had a massive heart attack, a consequence of radiation exposure to the chest that is now well-known. The physicians in this area saved his life, over and over again.

When he died of heart failure - yes, another consequence of radiation - he was 65 years and he had been a cancer survivor for more than 45 years. He was in his last semester of teaching at UC before his planned retirement.

I am proud of him beyond measure. I became a pediatric oncologist because of him - because, through him, I saw what medicine could be and could do, and also where it needed to go. But I also know that we were incredibly, incredibly lucky. He had extraordinarily good health insurance, without concern for his numerous preexisting conditions. He had a job that was still waiting for him, after each and every illness. He had a job that adapted to his physical limitations.

If not nearly enough Americans have that kind of privilege...even fewer will if a bill like the AHCA ever becomes law. I cannot imagine what my life would be like without ready access to good healthcare. Almost certainly I would not now be raising in my son in the house his grandfather built, because my parents would have lost it to foreclosure long ago. Perhaps I would not have been able to attend a prestigious university and medical school. Likely I would not have returned to this community to practice and give back.

I was disappointed to note the following written on your website: "Under Obamacare, American families are spending a larger share of their income on premiums and deductibles than ever before. Patients have been hurt, doctors have been burdened, and families and taxpayers are being crushed by this terrible law and its thousands of pages of onerous regulations."

As a practicing physician and medical educator with experience teaching healthcare finance, I can personally attest that this is false. Obamacare, while it leaves much room for improvement, represented a substantial advance for American healthcare. Rising healthcare costs predated the passage of the ACA; the only problem is that the ACA did little to halt the rise. In addition to myself, there are many others in this area, particularly faculty at Utica College, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University who would be more than willing to meet with you and educate your staff on the issues.

Please do not hesitate to contact me. I - and my friends and colleagues - want to build bridges. We want to share our knowledge, both intellectual and intimate, of the devastating impact that a bill like the AHCA will have on the health of our community.


Amy Caruso Brown, MD, MSc, MSCS