June 2, 2014
Numbers have always fascinated me. I guess I inherited this from my parents. After mom graduated from the University of Chicago in 1922 she worked for over a decade as an actuarial for Metropolitan Life. Dad was a professor of economics and statistics at New York University and taught one of the first college courses on investments at the time NYU was moving from the Bronx to downtown Manhattan. Numbers were important to both mom and dad.
I am going to tell you several numbers that have been important to or help define the lives of four people.
Bob Wells from out on Betty’s Creek road told me of a friend who saw that lots of elderly people could not stand up from deep chairs without assistance. At age 65 or so he began sitting and then rising up from deep chairs 100 times a day. I believe he said that at age 86 his friend can still rise from deep chairs unassisted. Now there’s an excellent, well ingrained habit that is working out successfully. I’m going to start doing that.
Bob Wells is a retired orthopedic surgeon. He had a well ingrained habit too. I learned an interesting life number from him two weeks ago. He went to Haiti each year to teach and do complicated surgeries at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital for 50 years. He and another surgeon from his orthopedic group went to Haiti for a week to 10 days three times a year. Those are long, productive habits.
Caroline White keeps track compulsively of thank you notes she has written to people who have donated time or money to F.A.I.T.H., Fight Abuse In The Home. One year she told me the number was about 1300 letters in the previous year. Give some money several times a year to F.A.I.T.H.!!! It’s a great organization and you will receive several of Caroline’s thoughtful notes. And she means every word of the notes as F.A.I.T.H. does need money.
“The Headmaster,” that would be Mr. Frank L. Boyden, was headmaster of Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, MA from 1902 through 1968. Amazing: 66 years. He was really, really, really compulsive about writing notes to contributors, former students, people from his hometown and also anyone who graduated from Amherst College who had done something particularly remarkable. His letter writing compulsiveness (and he kept score) was incredible. He tried to maintain an output of 35 per day! That’s lots! “There is really nothing he likes quite as much as mail. He can’t wait to get at it.” In the 64 years prior to the little biography, “The Headmaster,” he wrote about 500,000 letters. Carbon copies were kept of every letter so writing that biography was easy.
Numbers do not need to be large to be impressive. There is another number about this man that is perhaps equally impressive. And it is a small number. In his years as headmaster he dismissed from Deerfield Academy only 5 students. Boyden wrote: “I always remember what Robert E. Lee said when he was president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee. He said, ‘A boy is more important than any rule.'”
Please send me the numbers that fascinate you or have helped define the course of your own life. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert A. Hatcher M.D., M.P.H.
Emeritus Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics
Emory University School of Medicine