Monday, March 7, 2011

My father


My father died last night. More people read my blog than will read his obituary in the local newspaper, so tonight I will devote the post to my father, Dr. Thomas P. Kearns. My father was born on April 12, 1922 in a little town back 50 miles of gravel road in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, Ravenna. His second generation immigrant Irish father worked as a section gang worker for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. The house he was raised in was built into a steep hillside over a dirt cellar. I believe it may have had only two rooms plus a bathroom. His parents bought it for 700 dollars. My father recounted that he was not allowed to go over the hill on which they lived as there were hillbillies back there who were dangerous. In high school he began working in a store that must have sold general merchandise, he told me the story of a woman who came back to complain that her refrigerator was making ice faster than she could empty the trays, and hoped it could be adjusted somehow.

Something happened with my grandfather and mother during the depression and they separated temporarily, I believe that my grandfather may have developed a drinking problem, and he was unable to support his family and so my father and mother went to live with "Uncle Doc" who was, I believe, actually a cousin once or twice removed. Uncle Doc was a physician in Louisville, Kentucky and even though his patients sometimes paid in chickens, was relatively well off and highly respected. My father idolized "Uncle Doc" and decided that he too would be a doctor when he grew up.

He and his mother then moved to a rooming house where the bathroom was down the hall and I remember him saying how he disliked that. Food was scarce and he and his mother had to eat so many apples from the tree in the backyard that he would never eat them again till he was elderly and then only rarely. He worked at an A and P grocery to put himself through school at the University of Louisville. When he met my mother, whose father had a farm on the Ohio River, he was astonished to see both ham and chicken served at the table. In his home, there was a single piece of chicken put on your plate in the kitchen and that was your meal. In my mothers home, the chicken was on the table and you could have a second piece, or even ham.

Dad finished college and was accepted to the University of Louisville Medical School, the A and P offered him a managers job if he would stay, but he still chose medical school. My father was like many of the depression kids, a very hard worker and determined to rise from the poverty in which he had been raised. He was a tireless worker and as focused as a man could possibly be. When World War II began, the army put him in uniform and picked up his tuition. He and my mother were married during the war and her fathers extra gas allotment as a farmer was enough to get them to nearby Cincinnati for a honeymoon. I have the room receipt in a box somewhere.

After graduation, he was sent to Fort Riley, Kansas, he had experience doing refraction with "Uncle Doc" so they had him working with eyes. After the war he applied for further training to a number of schools. This advanced training in those days, was called fellowship, and paid almost nothing but offered lots of work experience and the occasional nights sleep. He applied to the very prestigious program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, not really expecting to get in. When he was accepted to train there as an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) he and my mother moved to Minnesota. After fellowship he was invited to remain and become a staff physician. He spent his entire career at the Mayo Clinic.

My father and mother in the 70's

If you stop and think about what kind of a guy you would like operating on your eyeballs, that was my father. He was precise and a ceaseless, tireless worker. He became one of the first neuro- opthalmologists ( that is he specialized in the nervous system of the eye), in those days it was a tiny and exotic subspecialty and one of the only institutions large enough and seeing enough curious cases to need a full time neuro-opthalmologist was Mayo. Besides practicing medicine he did research and wrote almost ninety papers on the eye. He identified a syndrome that still bears his name Kearns -Sayres disease. Ultimately he became president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolarengology, which at that time had 12,000 members.

His success allowed my mother to collect fine antiques and we lived in a fine home, that was full of beautiful things. When I dropped out of high school and was able to wheedle my way into art school the next year (it WAS the 60's after all ) he gave me a monthly stipend of 300 dollars and told me he would pay my tuition at any school I could get into. He sent me those 300 dollar checks until I was in my thirties. Of course by then three hundred dollars was not a princely sum, but it would pay my rent. That little boost, not enough to make the world go away for me, as I still had to struggle to survive, made it possible to study with Ives Gammel (if I drove a cab at night) and allowed me to live indoors while I learned to paint for a living. If I sold a picture a month I could eat.

I don't think my father had much of an interest in art, I think he thought it was sort of too bohemian. But the first time I had a painting juried into the National Academy of Design biennial and we went to see the show on 5th ave. in New York he started to come around. So he was supportive of me even though he himself was skeptical of the whole art thing.

After his retirement in 1987 my father who had saved the sight of so many others lost his own to macular degeneration, something in which he was an early expert.For many years he did the best he could finding his way around with only a corona of peripheral vision. My mother and he moved into a high rise for the elderly and lived there, first in their own apartment and then on an assisted living floor. Several months ago he had to be moved to another floor that could care for him as his health deteriorated. I have visited him many times over the last year or two and watched his health slip away. He became weaker and weaker like some toy that runs on batteries that gradually wear out. Last night my sister who was in Minnesota called to tell me that he had died.

122 comments:

Marc R. Hanson said...

Stape... So very sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family. I lost my dad very early in his and my life. I understand how important our dads are to us. Be well.

Steven Zapata said...

God be with you tonight, Stape.

Richard Piloco said...

My Heartfelt condolences to you and your family.

Frank Gardner said...

Stape, I am so very sorry to hear about the loss of your Dad.
I enjoyed reading about your family.

Dot Courson said...

My condolences, Stape. And thank you so much for writing and sharing this. A beautiful story. I am in awe of this great hard-working accomplished man that you were fortunate to call your father. You are in my prayers.
Dot

Deborah Paris said...

Thank you for telling us about your father, Stape. Our parents generation was an extraordinary one- formed by depression and war. I think they worked hard, expected less and got more because of it. I would like to tell you the pain of this loss goes away but, 9 years on from my father's death, I cannot say that. But,sharp pain does eventually become a dull background sense of loss.

You and your family are in my prayers.

Claire Bull said...

Thinking of you and your family, Stape, my father is a retired doctor also and I am watching him get weaker physically and mentally. It is difficult to watch such a brilliant person get weaker. I guess we have to hold onto what they taught us with their wisdom and guidance and go on... what a beautiful tribute you have written. So very sorry to hear of your loss and sending heartfelt best wishes to you.

Pat Jeffers, Artist said...

So sorry to hear about your father Stape. And that was a wonderful, sensitive telling of the story of his life. Many of your readers and fans have you in their thoughts tonight. Take comfort in that support.

William R. Moore said...

Stape,
I am so very sorry for your loss. You and yours are in my thoughts. Thanks for writing and sharing this obituary of your Father.

Logan Maxwell Hagege said...

Stape, Nice tribute, thinking about you and your family.

Creativity Clubhouse said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Stapleton. It's odd that I just finished cleaning out my dad's workshop today. He died in August. As, I read about your father's life, I'm here in Louisville, KY... my hometown. Very happy to know your dad was a U of L grad.

Brady said...

He sounds like a decent guy. I hope you find the comfort you need. You and your family will be in my prayers.

rahina q.h. said...

my condolences to you and your family. this is a beautifully written tribute to him.

Teresa J said...

My condolences to you and your family.

Sidharth Chaturvedi said...

Very sorry for your loss, Stape. Thank you for sharing his story, and take care.

JonInFrance said...

God bless

Tim said...

Thank you for sharing Stape, my thoughts are with you and your family

jeff said...

Stape, So sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family.

Linda Crank said...

Dear Stape, I am very sorry about your dad. What an amazing person he was, and you must be very proud of him and love him very much. God bless you and your family at this sad time.

Judy said...

So sorry to hear about your Dad--his story could be my father's--also from poverty to medical school to war and to a life of productive dedication. That generation went through so much and rose above it all. They are greatly missed.

Judy Warner

Bill Guffey said...

Hey Stape. Didn't you tell me your father was a KY Colonel? I don't know how it is now, but in the past, to be a Colonel, you had to exhibit good works and have a good heart, a heart for others. Sounds like your father fit the bill.

Praying for you and you family.

Bill

clarkola said...

Inspiring life! He helped people see physiologically as you help people see aesthetically. How great that he supported you even when he wasn't sure what you were up to. Great fatherly kindness. Thanks for sharing his story here. We are with you.

B Lancton said...

A very beautiful tribute to your father. May God be with you and your family, and with your father. I keep you in my prayers.

Denise Rose said...

He sounds like he lived a great life despite the struggles and I know since he was partially responsible for you that it was a great life. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family now.

linesend said...

This is a beautiful tribute to your father, thank-you for sharing a little of his story with us. Condolences to you and your family.

Lucy said...

He sounded like a wonderful man. So sorry for your loss.

Mary Bullock said...

So very sorry to hear of your Father's passing. It is always hard to lose a parent. God Bless.

Barbara said...

Thoughts and prayers.... Thinking of you...

Ernest Friedman-Hill said...

Your father sounds like a good man. May his memory be for a blessing.

mariandioguardi.com said...

There is a seismic shift in your world when a parent dies. It is very sad. But thank you for sharing the life of your dad, from a stoic generation that gave us so much, in many ways.

Philip Koch said...

Sorry about you losing your dad. A long and intriquing story. You have to be the "eye specialist" of the family from now on.

Trish King Slaven said...

What a wonderful tribute to your Father. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers, Stape.

Doug Williams said...

Stape - We all appreciate the warm and thoughtful tribute you give to your father. Many of us also struggle with watching our parents' health begin to fade. He was obviously a generous and hard working man.
I have a friend who is an ophthamologist who said that he went into the field because of the amazing colors that can be seen on the retina when you look into the back of the eye.

cookfamily2004 said...

Stape: You are very lucky to have had such a father and he was very lucky to have had such a son. My dad came from similar economic circumstances and rose to be a highly respected achiever in his community (and on the golf course). At 94 he is still golfing but I know my days with him are limited. I am very sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing your remarkable dad with us all.

Clem Robins said...

i'm sorry, Stape. but thank you for sharing his story.

Libby Fife said...

I am truly sorry. What a wonderful story though. Thank you as always.

Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

My deepest sympathy. You wrote a wonderful tribute to him. May he rest in peace, and your memories bring you comfort.

Amy said...

My sincere condolences on the loss of your dad. And a wonderful tribute given to him in your post. The loss of a parent at any age is difficult, but I think when you have a parent in your life for a long time, the loss is more difficult. I know it was that way with me. Thanks so much for sharing your family story. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Barbara Carr said...

Stape, I enjoyed reading (through tears) your Dad's story, in which you managed to inject your trademark humor. What a wonderful, supportive man! Thank you for sharing; you have my deepest sympathy.

JAMES A. COOK said...

STAPE,
I am very sorry for the lose of your dad. You know that I have gone through the same lose with my mom. My prayers are with you and your family. Your Dad as you tell us was a great man. I would be proud of him to. He helped so many people ,as you to Stape, give so many people joy with your paintings.
God bless you .
JAMES

Karla said...

What a nice tribute to your father. You may have had different interests, but it looks like you inherited your Dad's drive for excellence and the willingness to write and share what you know with others. God Bless. Karla

Deb said...

This was a wonderful tribute. I got a real sense of the kind of man your dad was. I remember reading your story about the time they came to visit Ives. Now we know your dad supported you even through all that. I believe he must've been proud of you after all.

My prayers are with you and your family. I hope you can share some good memories and happy stories, along with the grief and pain of missing him.

lisa said...

Stapleton, I am so very sorry to hear about your loss. Know that many of us are thinking of you at this time. My condolences to you and your family.

mike rooney studios said...

sounds like a great man! my condolences stape.

LandPainter said...

I'm really sorry to hear the news of your father's passing. You're obituary would have made him proud. He sounded like a wonderful man and father.

JoyLef77 said...

Stape, Please accept my condolences. Thank you for writing about you father. It feels like I know him, if only a little bit. I had worked with patients who have Kearns-Sayre and was so surprised to read about your father's incredible contribution to the world of medicine. When my own Dad died, now 25 years ago, I felt a part of my heart go with him. A piece of that pain remains to this day but it is sweetened by the warmth of his memory and the love that I have for him. How wonderful that he "came around" when your work was shown in New York! He must have been a great dad to you and your sister. Hugs, Joy

Thirukumaran said...

Dear Stape,
My deepest condolences for your loss.

Sandra Galda said...

So sorry for your loss Stapleton. This is very nice memorial to him on your blog.

Eden Compton said...

My deepest condolences on your loss Stapleton.

Don Thacker said...

My condolences. Your father sounds like an amazing man. Your story of him reminded me of my grandfather who passed several years ago, and it brought both a tear and smile to my face. Thank you for sharing this.

Nancy said...

Stape... Our deepest sympathy on the passing of your father. What a rich and fulfilling life he lived. Thank you for sharing his story with us. He was truly a fine human being! You and yours are in our thoughts and prayers.
All the best and take care.

billspaintingmn said...

Stape, It takes a father like yours
to develope someone like you.
Your hard work and helpfulness is a reflection I'm sure.
My condolences to you and your family.

Mary Rochelle said...

You have touched me with your story. Thank you for keeping your father's spirit alive.

Jesus Estevez said...

My condolence to you for your loss

Mark Heng said...

A life well lived by a good man. Thanks for the story, Stape, and my condolences.

hagerstudios said...

Stape,
Sorry for your loss, my thoughts and prayers will with you and your family during this time.

Nita said...

I'm sorry for your loss. Fascinating obituary. There's a nice connection between your seeing/teaching ability in transferring landscapes to canvas and his career in helping people see better.

theresaryan said...

Many condolences, may God keep him. He sounds like a fascinating person and one that has had a wonderful influence on the lives of so many people, not least of all yourself. *hug*.

Sean said...

That was very vividly written - I read the final sentence and then looked around, confused at finding myself sitting in a chair looking at a computer screen. Thank you for sharing his wonderful life with us.

jerrycampbell said...

Please accept my deepest sympathies for your loss, Stape. Thank you for writing about his life.

Judy P. said...

What a rich and compelling life your Dad lived, and his work ethic explains yours- you carry it forward well.
My heartfelt thoughts to you and your family.

willek said...

What a remarkable individual your father was. My father also came from a similar background in Northern Maine and worked hard to become a success. He died very young, unfortunately. I'm sure he was very proud of your accomplishments. Loss of a parent is a tough thing and our thoughts are with you all.

Bill Nagel said...

So sorry for your loss Stape. And thank you for carrying on the tradition of helping people see.

Steve Baker said...

Sorry for your lose Stape. I know it's tough to lose someone who means that much to you, someone you love and respect. My thoughts are with you and your family.

Cynthia said...

Your father sounds as if he was a truly wonderful man. I am so sorry for your loss. Condolences to you and your entire family.

Linda Popple said...

Beautiful tribute about your father. My condolences. Blessings - Linda

Kyle V Thomas said...

Stape,
A beautiful tribute to your father. My condolences for your loss.

Antonin said...

my condolences

Mike Thompson said...

Stape, let me extend my sincere condolences to you and your family. Thank you for this warm tribute you have written. We owe such a debt to those who have come before us.

Belinda Del Pesco said...

So lovingly written, and such a pleasure to read. I would have liked knowing your Dad, I bet. Great photo of him & your Mom, too. Thanks for this little glimpse into his life, and your family. Heartfelt condolences to you, and big hope that your memories of his smile, carriage and familiar gestures help soften the edges of your loss.

Diane said...

What a great man he was. I lost my Dad two years ago, it is really a difficult loss, and it takes time for it to ease up a little. Our fathers were very concerned with their legacy, I wonder if that will continue with further generations, hopefully so.
Condolences to you and your family.

Katherine Muschick Schneider said...

So sorry to hear of the loss of your father, Stape.

Stephanie Berry said...

So sorry for your loss. Thanks for the nice tribute to your dad.

Mark Bridges said...

Stape...So sorry for your loss. It was wonderful he could help so many others.

Jeremy Elder said...

My prayers are with your family Stape.

Florante :-) said...

My condolences to you and your family,stape.

M said...

Stape, i'm so sorry for your loss! Your father sounds like a wonderful and amazing man. What a hard worker!

One of my best friends comes from the town next to Ravenna, Cow Creek (I am not making this up). Quite a different world back there.

Jim G. said...

My condolences to you and your family. The story takes me back twenty years ago to when I received a phone call that my father had died. I think that, like your father, you are helping others to see, just in different ways. Thank you, and God bless you and your family.

Terry said...

Oh Stape, what a difficult phone call to recieve, even when it's expected it is a shock. I lost my dad 8 yrs ago and was so grateful that I had his poor health to pull me back from my too busy life to reconnect, but it still shook my life. The things he taught me (not realizing, of course, where and how I would use them!) are remembered gratefully every day. Thank you for this wonderful tribute, Terry

Postcards from Detroit said...

So sorry to hear of your loss. I also lost my father and my thoughts are with you. Thanks for sharing his story.

jim said...

I've followed your tale of the guy's gradually slipping life's bonds. This must be a rotten day for you. Gladly, it sounds like when this finally happened, you both were in a good place for this.
We're all thinking about you guys. You are among my most favorite of human beings.- JL

Peggy Kingsbury said...

Sympathies, Stape. I hope writing about your dad was therapeutic.

Frank P. Ordaz said...

My heart felt condolences Stape

Frank P. Ordaz said...

Oh Stape... Your tribute to your father was very heartfelt and it touched me deeply. Jana's dad passed away last month and I can only imagine all the emotions that you are going through. You have my prayers my friend.

John said...

You have my sympathies, Stape. That was a very lovely eulogy as well. Be well.

barbara b. land of boz said...

I'm so sorry for your loss Stapleton. As I read thru the other comments, I felt the love of your friends pouring out their love and prayers to you and yours.
This is a sad day indeed. May the Peace of the Lord be upon you today and the many days to come. Time does have a way of healing the loss, and at enhanceing the memories. Thanks be to God.

debrha said...

My condolences - what a lovely tribute.

Mark Kreider said...

My deepest sympathy to you and your family. Ours went through this a year ago... it's not over yet, maybe never. I wish that peace and serenity may surround you with loving arms, help sustain you through this difficult time and then, beyond. Prayers..

Steven W. Dunn said...

What a beautiful tribute to one who was obviously a very fine, intelligent and resourceful man. Your journey most certainly is made more interesting by having chosen him as your Father. Treasure your memories and move forward through your creativity.
Steven

Bill said...

Sorry for your loss, he sounds like a great guy. I was quite interested to hear that you have a Kentucky Connection.

Mary Brewster said...

Hi Stape,
I am so sorry to hear of your loss.
Reading about your Dad's life made me understand where your caring comes from. Your teaching in person and on the blog gives us all an opportunity to share what you have been given, and to give back to your Dad that way. We are all part of a strong chain of love that transcends temporary death.

Joan Cole said...

Hi Stapleton, I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. Thank you for sharing your memories of your dad with us.

Catherine said...

So sorry to hear of your loss Stape. It is a very difficult thing—no matter when your parents leave. My thoughts and condolences are with you

CANDY said...

Very VERY difficult to see a parent waste away and eventually die. I watched my own dad slowly suffocate to death from emphysema 2 years ago.
It's no wonder the Bible says "death is an enemy". Nevertheless, it was so great of you to share his life with us. Thanks very much.

Teresa Cowley said...

Stape, you and your family have my deepest sympathy and prayers at this time. I lost Mom in December, and Dad, three years earlier. They were truly part of a great generation.

Ray Hassard said...

Very sorry to read of your loss, Stape, but I very much enjoyed reading the story of your father's life. Thank you for letting us know about him.

Joan said...

Stape, I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your father. The love and respect in your written words is obvious. My father had the exact same birthday as your father's .....another member of the greatest generation.
my sincere condolences to you and your family.

Stapeliad said...

Oh... just seeing this now... I am so sorry, you have my deepest sympathies. It is a great loss.

john pototschnik said...

Blessings to you and your family, Stapleton. I'm sorry for your loss and ensuing sadness in loosing someone so special.

Linda Tracey Brandon said...

My deepest condolences to you and your family.Thank you for writing this and sharing the story of your father's life.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you all for your condolences.All 100 hundred of you and the 50 or so who commented on facebook. Some of you I know and some of you are followers of the blog I have not met. I am touched. The blog is a funny thing, it is a little like being on stage and the audience can see you but you can't see them through the glare of the footlights.I know you are all out there, though, I just can't see your faces.
I appreciate your kindness and of course I will continue to try to make myself as useful as I can here.
.............Thanks, Stape

Dan Corey said...

Hey Stape, brilliant telling of his story. Sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing his story with us. Dan

Bob Carter said...

Stape-
I'm just catching up from yesterday's posting. My sincere sympathies for your loss. You were very fortunate to have an understanding father who would support a son in an endeavor that was outside his realm of appreciation.
-Bob

Cake Artisan said...

Thank you for sharing your Dad's story with us. My thoughts are with you.

T Arthur Smith said...

I'm sorry to hear this. It sounds like your father was a very rich man, in every way that matters, and you made him proud. The story you just posted is heartfelt and powerful. Thank you for all you've done here Stape. I wish you and your family well in this hard time.

Janice Skivington said...

My heartfelt sympathy for you and your family. This is a fine and loving tribute to your father that you have written. Your own "vison" is an inheritance from a hard working talented man.

Plein Air Gal said...

Words can never convey sentiment properly but I will still say that I am sorry for your loss. I just lost my Dad 2 weeks ago, on February 17, and empathize with you. Talking about your Dad in your blog is an excellent step in the grieving process - and so wonderful for us that you are able to share family members with us ... your artist family! Prayers for you and your family.
Sharon A

Anthony Cramer said...

Sorry to hear about your loss Stape, thank you for sharing about your dad.

pfranklin said...

Sending my Heartfelt condolences to you and your family.

Jean Spitzer said...

I am so sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing his story here.

tom martino said...

Stape, my condolences on the passing of your father. That was quite a generation, not afraid of hard work and entirely more focussed than the following generations. My father is 91 years old and still works!

Peter Hemmer said...

Stape-
Sorry for your loss, you wrote a wondeful tribute to your Father. Having lost both of my parents a few months ago, you are in my thoughts and prayers. Peace be with you.
Pete

Sara Winters said...

That was absolutely beautiful, Stape. You have been blessed with a wonderful family, and my heart goes out to you all. I wish I had more to say, but words don't make a loss of such magnitude go away.

Ann Buckner said...

I'm so sorry for your loss and appreciate the depth of your story about your dad. With thoughts and prayers.

kev ferrara said...

Your father seemed like a very good man and the apple that fell off that tree hasn't seemed to roll much at all.

Best wishes in all you do.

Linda Nickles said...

I am very sorry for your loss, Stape. Thank you for sharing your story; I appreciated reading it. My thoughts are with you.

elijebrg said...

A touching and loving memorial, thank you. Gives us insight into where your own ceaseless devotion to your work and your desire to support others comes from.

DIANE TASSELMYER said...

Thank you for sharing your tribute to your father with us. It was a good thing to do.
Twas a pleasure to read about him and the synopsis of his life.
I pray for your days ahead as you re-live your time with him.
My daily visits with you are like reading a book in slow motion. And you have been kind enough to flesh out the details of yourself and this private time of your life.

MB Young said...

Sorry to hear about your dad, Stape.

Todd Bonita said...

What a nice tribute to your dad, I'm sorry for your loss Stape.
Sincerest regards,
Todd Bonita

Mary Sonya Conti said...

shadow play and memories are where one finds themselves in losing a parent. My heart is with you dear man.

Doug Stotts said...

He sounds like a genuinely good man.