Remembering Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Trailblazer and Survivor

Man poses for two separate photos.

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth at his church (photo courtesy of Glenn Hartong / The Cincinnati Enquirer) and in University Hospital’s Living Proof series.

John M. Tew, Jr., MD, Clinical Director of the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute and a Mayfield Clinic neurosurgeon, presented the following remarks at a memorial service for the Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, on Oct. 29, 2011, at the Greater New Light Baptist Church in Cincinnati. Dr. Tew was one of nearly 30 government officials, church leaders and dignitaries who was invited to speak at the hours-long service, which drew hundreds of Rev. Shuttlesworth’s friends and admirers.

Good afternoon.

To the Family of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and to his friends, colleagues and fellow leaders: Let me say that it is an honor to be asked to speak on this important occasion, the celebration of the life of a man who changed the lives of Americans, and so many of us here in Cincinnati.

Rev. Shuttlesworth dedicated his life to dignity and justice for all people. He was a giant of the Civil Rights Movement. Walking shoulder to shoulder with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Shuttlesworth tread fearlessly through the flames of history. Unwavering and unflinching, he kept his eyes on a future that was more important to him than his own safety. In so doing he lived a life enriched with purpose, and he achieved a measure of greatness that few people are ever destined to achieve.

Man speaks at at lecturn

As many have already stated, Rev. Shuttlesworth will always be remembered, and he will always be missed. When I first met Rev. Shuttlesworth, we were both receiving an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Mount St. Joseph College. The year was 2001. I confess that, at that time, I was  largely unfamiliar with Dr. Shuttlesworth’s great role in history.  Therefore, the celebration at Mount St. Joseph afforded me the opportunity to fill in some important historical gaps in my education. It also allowed me the treasured occasion to know this remarkable and engaging individual.

I learned that Rev. Shuttlesworth and I had a few things in common. We were both from small southern towns, he from Alabama, I from North Carolina. We both grew up country folk, which means we learned early about hard work and sacrifice. Though we worshipped at different churches, we shared a closeness to God. When we parted after the ceremony, I felt blessed to have a new friend.

About four years later, our paths crossed again, this time at University of Cincinnati Hospital, where I teach and work as a brain surgeon. Rev. Shuttlesworth had a tumor that was discovered after he suffered a seizure. I advised him that, based on the location of the tumor, he could probably live with it and avoid having surgery. The catch was that he would have to take medication to prevent any further seizures, and the seizure medication would likely produce some side-effects.

Rev. Shuttlesworth decided to get a second opinion from the Cleveland Clinic. And when they suggested a more aggressive approach – brain surgery – he made up his mind. He came back to Cincinnati and looked me straight in the eye.

“John, I’m counting on living a long time. I don’t want that tumor inside my head.”

He was a discerning patient, tough, and decisive. Because he was in his 80’s at the time, his decision was also courageous. Of course, when taken in the context of his life history, this decision was hardly surprising.

I remember saying back then that Rev. Shuttlesworth was an incredible fighter, a man who never lets the fire go out. He did not like the medication that he had to take to control the seizures, and he said, “I want that tumor out!”

Rev. Shuttlesworth had surgery at University of Cincinnati Hospital, and with God’s blessing and guidance, the surgery went well and we were able to remove the tumor completely. Rev. Shuttlesworth was soon walking, talking and meeting with everybody.

As you know, he was a grateful patient, and generous in his support of University Hospital, an urban teaching hospital that offers the most advanced medical technologies and treatments while also providing a vital safety net for people, particularly those with limited financial means. Rev. Shuttlesworth not only spoke highly of our hospital, he also lent his name and image to the hospital’s Living Proof campaign. I smiled broadly every time I saw his face smiling back from billboards around the region – trim and healthy in his Living Proof T-shirt and slacks.

As he predicted, Rev. Shuttlesworth did live a long time after that tumor surgery. He had six more years to share with family, friends and fellow parishioners.

Speaking for the associates, doctors and nurses at the University of Cincinnati, we are blessed to have had the opportunity to know Rev. Shuttlesworth, and we thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts and memories with you today.

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