September 22, 2012
Every time I get together with Pierce Cline we make interesting connections. I went to see him in Social Circle a week ago. He is very ill and has great difficulty talking now.
Often our connections begin with a newspaper or magazine article or something one of us has written. Last Sunday the first thing Pierce did was to hand me a copy of an obituary from The Economist. It was about Roger Fisher, a lawyer, teacher, and peacemaker, who died on August 25, 2012 at age 90. We started our visit discussing this man who believed in active listening, trying to get into another person’s head and feelings; a man who believed in negotiation, resolving differences, the power of close friendships and peace. Fisher taught for 40 years at Harvard. Folks who had taken his advice included Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, President Nasser and Menachem Begin. His goal was always compromise and conflict resolution. “As long as there were disputes in the world and energy in his body he was going to help resolve them.” Fisher’s next step might be a phone call, taking the next flight to Moscow or a meeting in Geneva in front of a roaring fire. Pierce and I both appreciated the life Roger Fisher had lived. Another connection. Fisher wrote the book “Getting to Yes” (3 million copies sold) that I will soon be reading to remind me of my friend in Social Circle.
Forty-eight years ago Pierce and his wife moved into their remarkable house where there is a desk that an architect might have called a drawing board. It was at exactly the right height for him to stand at and work for up to four hours at a time. Perfect for a man just over 6 feet tall. I felt that I was connecting with Pierce’s past as I stood at his desk.
There are many constants that have marched through the days of this man’s life: love of nature, love of hiking, love of his wife, Margie, curiosity, love of Emory, love of adventure and reading, reading, reading. We have made connections in almost all of these areas.
Fortunately, one of his habits when coming to Rabun County has been to call me. We have had lunch perhaps 30 times at Grapes and Beans, taken several hikes and made several visits to each other’s home.
Standing there I saw I saw a beautiful path through a forest. I asked him where it was. He had to say it several times before I could understand his answer. “Appalachian Trail” was what he was saying. At age 60 he had decided to hike the Appalachian Trail and he completed it in sections over the next decade. We never walked on the AP, itself, but we have enjoyed other hikes together.
How he loved the mountains, trees and rivers of Rabun County. I love them too. Still another connection.
Lying there on a couch to my right and just loving my interest in his study was my friend who is dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS or amytrophic lateral sclerosis). ALS is not an easy disease to die from as paralysis of muscles makes a person progressively weaker. Swallowing frightens him every single time as his muscles cannot be counted upon to keep food out of his respiratory track.
I have loved this man, Pierce Cline, from Social Circle, Tiger and Rabun Gap. His life has been, is now and always will be a blessing to my life.
Robert A. Hatcher MD, MPH
Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics
Emory University School of Medicine