Archive for November, 2013

End of a Personal Era

November 16, 2013

My father died on Monday, October 14, 2013. This is the obituary that my sister and I came up with:

 

Doctor Philip Kramer Bondy, research endocrinologist at Yale University for 37 years, died on October 14, 2013 after a short illness; he was 95. Born in New York City, to Eugene Lyons Bondy and Irene Kramer Bondy on December 15, 1917, Bondy was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Columbia University. He graduated from Harvard College Medical School in 1942, having been elected to the AOA and Sigma Xi honor societies. He interned at Peter Bent Brigham hospital and, after serving briefly in the Army during World War II as a physician, became chief resident and assistant professor at Emory University. He married Sarah (Sally) Ernst on March 18, 1949. They moved to Yale University in 1952, where he worked until his retirement, excepting a five-year stint from 1971 to 1976 at the Royal Marsden Hospital and the Institute of Cancer Research in London. At Yale, Bondy specialized in endocrinology, metabolism, and internal medicine and served as Chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine for seven years. He published numerous papers that advanced the understanding of diabetes, adrenocortical function, endocrine effects on cancer, and the role of polyamines on cell differentiation. Bondy edited widely-used medical reference books (Duncan’s Diseases of Metabolism, Genetics and Metabolism, the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy), and scientific journals, including the Journal of Clinical Investigation and the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. Bondy’s involvement in the YJBM, a journal run jointly by Yale faculty and students, typified his passion for medical education and mentorship. Bondy completed his career as the Chief of Staff of the West Haven Veteran’s Administration Hospital. Upon retirement, he and his wife, Sally, worked for over a decade with the Home and School Association of Southbury Training School, and were on the board of the Southbury Training School Foundation. Scientist by vocation, Bondy’s avocations tended toward the arts and humanities. Amateur photographer with his own darkroom, painter, writer, and voracious reader, he consumed all manner of literature including all seven volumes of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He was an avid lifelong cellist, from his undergraduate days as Manager of Columbia University’s orchestra to his participation as principal cellist in the Hamden Symphony Orchestra through his late eighties. He loved stinky cheese and once was forced to store his cheese in a train’s baggage car so it would not offend his fellow passengers. Bondy was also a sailing enthusiast who enjoyed strapping his Sailfish on top of his car and heading out to sail it in lakes all over New England. An unpretentious man with a dry wit, his greatest joy was sharing ideas. His intellectual clarity and generosity of spirit were an inspiration to friends, family, and generations of physicians in training. He is survived by his wife Sarah Ernst Bondy of North Branford; his son Jonathan Bondy of Fletcher, VT; his daughter Jessica Bondy of Denver, CO and her husband Thornton Roby and their children Courtney and Evan; and his son, Steven of Hamden, CT.

 

I suppose that everyone thinks of their dad as being “special” or “great”, in a personal way. If you look at my father’s achievements (Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Chairman of the Department of Medicine), you might think of him as “great” in a manner that is more factual and less subjective.

But even this description does not really capture the depth and breadth of the man. While his main focus was that of a professional research and academic scientist and physician, he also had a deep fascination with many cultural and artistic aspects of life.

He played the cello all of this life, playing chamber music when I was a child, and in an orchestra after he retired, as first cellist. He enjoyed museums of all kinds, from art to historical, and was knowledgeable about a broad range of issues. I recall saying that I found Picasso’s cubist paintings to be unfathomable (I just might have said “stupid”), and he explained how one needed to know Picasso’s history, and the development of his style, to understand his art: he had read all about that. He read the entire collection of seven volumes of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He was a voracious reader, right up until about a year before his death, reading numerous magazines and 1-2 books a week.

He loved photography. The first images of me were taken by him, and developed and printed by him in his darkroom. He continued to take photographs into the digital age, displaying some of his work around his apartment. He took great joy in life through those images.

And he loved to sail. He sailed when he was a kid, as an adult at the Yale Yacht Club (a bit of a misnomer, since the boats we sailed in were probably 15 feet long), and at our summer house, up until about 8 years ago. He and my mother used to drag their SunFish all over New England.

He enjoyed gardening: I recall him digging up all of the iris and day lily bulbs so that he could replant them. He mowed his own lawn and plowed his own driveway (with a snow blower) as long as he lived in his home, before moving to a retirement community. He split wood for exercise, even though he suffered from emphysema. In fact, he predicted his death as being imminent about 20 years ago. Fortunately, his lung function stabilized for two decades.

His love of food was similarly broad. He traveled to the middle east on business when I was young, he brought back the recipe for hummus, after which we made hummus regularly. He was a thoughtful and precise griller of steak, and used his knowledge of anatomy to dismantle lobsters with a thoroughness that had everyone funneling their carcasses to him for final disassembly. He loved potato pancakes, and made them with skill. He also loved stinky cheeses like Liederkranz as well as bologna and liverwurst. And rare or even raw beef (steak tartar). No vegetarian, he, and yet he lived to be 95.

He was an accomplished and brilliant man who did not need to impress those around him. He was generous with his explanations of history and art, but also helped those around him understand medical issues as we encountered them. Many people turned to him when confronted with difficult times.

He wrote a history of his life up until he met his wife, from about 1920 until about 1950. It gave all of us a window back into a past that seems almost surreal now. A time when there were no useful weather forecasts, and a hurricane could arrive without notice, devastating everything in sight. A time when health was not something to take for granted. His devotion to medicine may have originated with health problems that he encountered as a child.

I recall bringing a science project in to class at one point. The subject was osmosis, and he explained the phenomenon to to me so clearly that I believed that I understood it. My teacher was not so sure that I had “done” the project, but his clarity of thought and prose enabled me to grasp what my teacher thought was beyond me.

He provided the intellectual model on which I have lived my life, with logic, rational thought, and science as the center piece. He demonstrated the power of knowledge and logic through the ways that he explained phenomena, life, science, and even social and historical events. All of this without losing touch with his love of music, food, and other subjects less amenable to scientific definition. Those around me benefit from the fabric of his being.

And he was articulate and well spoken. My ability to write and speak is due, in large part, to the example that he provided every day as I grew up with him.

He was accepting of me as adult, even when I did stupid things. I took it for granted that all parents were thoughtful and kind with their kids. Later, I learned from friends how lucky I was that he gave me the space to make mistakes, even as an adult, while also providing support, but only as needed. He rarely passed judgment on me or on my acts, or even offered opinions, unless asked. There is a subtlety about this that amazes me.

When my mother began to be confused, he remained patient with her, answering the same question over and over again, ignoring her annoyance when he could not speak loudly enough for her, or when his requests were confusing to her. I asked him once why he did not snap at her when she asked the same question for the 10th time. He explained that getting angry would not help. While this is true, many people would not be as thoughtful and disciplined as he was. His love and devotion to her manifested in many ways, some of which were subtle.

He was thoughtful and organized to the end. Just 2 weeks before he died, and just a few days before he moved into a health care facility, he transferred money into his joint account, so that I was able to take care of my mother after he died. And he left a 4 page list of accounts, insurance policies, and pensions, so that I was not left in the dark. His mind was sharp right to the very end. His lungs? Not so much, unfortunately.

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