William Gipson Harvey, 1925-2008

For Father’s Day, I thought I would post some remarks that I gave at my father’s funeral in August of 2008. His obituary may be found here.

Remarks for William Harvey Memorial Service

When I began thinking of these remarks to memorialize my father, a couple of sentences immediately came to mind. The first: “Guess I better get to the ‘horspital’ and make sure everything is stable.” The utter corniness of this dry witticism never failed to strike me in the countless times I heard him say that, usually in his hurry to return to his medical clinic in Beaver, Oklahoma after a quick lunch at home. I also noted that he rarely failed to have his medical bags along with him, nor that he rarely if ever failed to give my mother a kiss on the cheek when he arrived home or when he left to get back to the horspital.

If his favorite ritual saying about the horspital speaks to Daddy’s good-humored wit (seen also in his favorite habit of taking visitors on a tour of what he loved to call the “inner city” of Beaver, Oklahoma, population 1,800) even during the middle of his incredibly long work days, another of his favorite grammatical conundrums speaks to his love of words, language, and knowledge. He loved to ask: Q: “In the sentence, the streets are running with water,  what is the subject”? My answer: “streets.” His response: “Are the streets running”? That question used to torment me, and once in graduate school I asked a colleague in the English department about it. She came back at me with an incredibly complicated set of grammatical terms which I won’t, and can’t, reproduce here.

Daddy’s grammatical query here was normal for him; he loved to quiz us about geography, history, religion, and other subjects, often at lunch after a Sunday morning where he taught Sunday school, sang in the church choir, took copious notes on countless sermons, tithed without fail, and sometimes abruptly left to attend to medical emergencies.

And two more recent anecdotes come to mind as well. Last year, we had a family reunion in Estes Park, Colorado. Sitting outside there on a Sunday afternoon, the discussion fell to medical subjects, and Daddy began talking about a recent case involving a patient who experienced persistent pain in and a rash on his knee. After what was doubtless a conversation with this man that far exceeded the time limits on patient consultation that any HMO would ever tolerate, Daddy deciphered that the man might have been bitten by a tick and perhaps had Lyme disease. He had learned this reading some medical article somewhere, and only after a long back-and-forth with the patient did this possibility even emerge, given that his knee condition seemed, at first glance, rather remote from this diagnosis.

Daddy loved medicine, studied it his whole adult life, and served as a family practice doctor for about 44 years. He was blessed with good health, missing probably just 4 or 5 days total due to illness.  Just four months ago, in fact, he was still seeing patients, and had a busy summer planned of working in local clinics, ministering to indigent patients in this church’s Good Shepherd Clinic, taking care of kids at Baptist summer camps, and delivering meals to folks in need in Oklahoma City.

Daddy’s love of taking care of patients became even clearer to me in a conversation with him last year. He spoke of working at one of the walk-in clinics in Oklahoma City. He had had a long day and had seen a few dozen patients, something that frankly worried me given his age by now, and my unthinking assumption that he somehow felt obligated to work and would have just assumed stay home and relax, as, just to cite a random example, I myself would choose given a similar circumstance. (Once, in fact, he referred to my rather lengthy stay in graduate school as a “permanent vacation,” meant to be good-natured teasing but one that certainly contained a large element of truth; my job then, and now for that matter I guess, is to read books all day long and occasionally write one, and it still seems like a permanent vacation). Anyway, in response to my attempt to sympathize with his long work day in this instance, I said something like “wow, that was a long day, you must look forward to retiring for good,” and he said in response, “well, I enjoy seeing and talking with the patients.”

Nothing more than that; Daddy was not one to talk that much. At the same time, he truly loved the social aspects of his medical practice, talking with patients not only about their medical issues but about the weather, their kids, their recent trips. Along the way he could learn something that might just help him diagnose their problems – such as, in the anecdote above, learning that the man with the knee pain had vacationed in the Rocky mountains recently and thus very well might have been exposed to a tick bite.

In certain ways, Daddy was not what one might call “practical.” Broken kitchen sinks, balky car transmissions, busted garage doors, and damaged pieces of furniture befuddled him (just as they do me – thanks for those genes, dad). He tended to be a good-humored sucker for every home alarm system salesman and every charity, real and bogus, that came calling. Acceding to offers from sincere-sounding people on the phone once left him, for example, with several hundred useless pens at his clinic, and not anything like what was described on the phone. He just assumed the best of everyone, and if he learned later that he had been taken, he just laughed at his own propensity to naiveté. Fundamentally, he just couldn’t bear to hurt anyone’s feelings.

But if Daddy usually couldn’t fix things at home, he could minister to body and soul. Daddy was a quiet and gentle person both at home and in public. He was invariably optimistic, and he lived out the tenets of his Christian faith in countless ways big and small. We loved him, and we will miss him.

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