A Great Living Cincinnatian Draws Courage from His Patients and Gives Hope in Return

John M. Tew, MD, left, and UC President Gregory Williams at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s annual dinner. Photo by Cindy Starr/Mayfield Clinic.

John M. Tew, Jr., MD, Clinical Director of the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute and a neurosurgeon with the Mayfield Clinic for more than 40 years, was honored as a Great Living Cincinnatian Thursday night by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. He thanked his family, his colleagues and his courageous patients, and he encouraged those in the audience never to give up hope.

Only 126 individuals have been named Great Living Cincinnatians since the award’s establishment in 1967. Dr. Tew was joined this year by the Honorable Sandra S. Beckwith, David C. Phillips and Oscar P. Robertson.

View videos of the 2011 Great Living Cincinnatians »

The following is a transcript of Dr. Tew’s remarks upon his acceptance of the Great Living Cincinnatian award:

Good evening. Thank you all for coming to share this moment with us. It’s an honor to stand here with Dave, Oscar, and Judge Beckwith and be recognized for this great Award.

What’s a person to say on such an occasion?  I must say I feel the need to keep it simple, to say 5 special Thank You’s and leave you with a thought.

My first thank you is to my parents and grandparents: brave and committed farmers who instilled in me the values of hard work, love for the land and a thirst for education. I wish they could be with us tonight.  Fortunately, my sister Barbara is here.

Next I’d like to thank the many dedicated teachers and mentors who nurtured my professional development. One man, in particular, stands out: Dr.  Frank Mayfield, my mentor and colleague, and the reason I came to Cincinnati 42 years ago.  Frank Mayfield is also a man who created a legacy of neurosurgical excellence that I and my colleagues have sought to carry on at the University of Cincinnati, the Mayfield Clinic and the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute.

To my colleagues and associates: thank you for the gifts of your time, your compassion, your philanthropy and your best effort every day to ensure the success of our mission and vision.  I have said it again and again, but it remains true: the excellence we have achieved has been accomplished as a team. Tonight’s award is a reflection not on me, but on the efforts of many people who have labored together over the years.

Fourth, I want to say a special word of appreciation for our patients and their families.  I have learned some of life’s most valuable lessons from them, at the bedside and in the operating room. I have watched families cry together, pray together, and stand fast together in the face of grief.  I have seen families faced with heart-rending trials, only to emerge with renewed love for each other and joy in living each day, however fragile life may be.  My patients have shown me the face of courage over the years—making me more courageous in the process.  And they have always been our most supportive and creative collaborators in clinical research and education.

Finally, a word to my family:  Thank you to my dear Susan, who has provided the stability and spiritual compass that has guided me and our family throughout our 44-year marriage. And thank you to my children, for your forgiveness and understanding when work prevented my presence at important occasions during your formative years.

* * *

Finally, I leave you with a thought.  In recent months, I was asked to sum up what I learned from a life committed to surgery, patient care, teaching and institution building.  This is not the place to give my full answer to that question, but I would like to leave you with a remark by Historian Charles Beard that points to the essence.

“When it gets dark enough, you can see the stars.”

Many times I have seen a patient confronted with the possibility, even the inevitability, of death.  A brain tumor patient and family stare the unknown in the face and are at the depth of despair. For them, in these darkest moments, it is the willingness to hope that perseveres deep in the soul until a cure is realized; or a recognition that a family’s love, a physician’s care, or a firm faith in God is itself light sufficient to dispel the darkness. In these moments, I have seen this light: a natural drive for healing that is present even when a cure is elusive.

I think this paradigm quite possibly holds for all of us.  It seems to me that any effort—whether in business, education or at home—is susceptible to the threat of stroke, so to speak, to a moment when a dark cloak falls over the endeavor and all appears lost.

But friends, all is never lost.  Hold fast in the darkness and look for the stars.  Flickers of light are there for the eye trained to see them.  Look for the light, for the glimmers of hope, and let those guide your way.

Thank you.

— John M. Tew, Jr., MD

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