The Minnesota health care family is mourning the
loss of two great doctors: Larry Meskin and Harvey O’Phelan.
I first met Larry Meskin when I
was a young freshman dental student. Larry was the chairman and founder of the
“Health Ecology Department”. Health Ecology gave us frantic students a welcome
respite from the rigors of dental anatomy, gross anatomy, physiology, and other
assorted academic horrors. The staff was friendly and laid back: the kindly Dr.
Meskin; his pal Les Martens; Ralph Katz, the “hippie-dippy” dentist from Tufts;
and an assortment of exotic foreign exchange graduate students in town to earn
their Master’s degrees in Public Health.
Along with the normal pedagogic
fare of dental epidemiology, the department dispensed practical experiences
essential for our development as dentists able to function in the real world.
Dr. Martens would take us on field trips to state hospitals. Back at school, we would hone our skills
treating patients in the realistic clinical setting of the “Dental Auxiliary
Utilization” and “Team” clinics, where we could actually do four-handed,
sit-down dentistry using state of the art equipment rather than the stand up,
work alone, belt-driven G.V. Black relics of the upstairs clinic. All this was
due to the foresight of Dr.
After 20 years at Minnesota, Larry left to be dean of the dental school in Colorado. His true gift,
however, was journalism. He served for many years as Executive Editor of the
Journal of the American Dental Association.
Larry and I rekindled our
friendship at the yearly meetings of the American Association of Dental
Editors. Larry would present workshops on the challenges facing editors,
especially ethical problems. I remember him asking, “What would you do if you
knew your association had taken an absolutely wrong position on an important
issue. Would you ignore your feelings and support it, would you write an
editorial in opposition even if it meant your job, or would you resign?” Larry
told us he didn’t have the answer; he just wanted to make us think. That was
his gift: He always made us think.
Dr. Harvey O’Phelan, an orthopedic
surgeon, was one of the pioneers of sports medicine. He was the team physician
for the University
of Minnesota, the
Minnesota Twins, the 1972 Olympic Team, and many other international sporting
Like many, many people in the
world, I owe my life to Dr. Harvey O’Phelan. No, I mean, I really owe my
existence to Harvey!
You see, my dad, Ed Stein, and Harvey were best friends from their old football
days at St. Thomas.
One fortunate night almost 60 years ago, Harvey
brought my dad along as a blind date for the sister of his soon-to-be-fiancée,
Kitty. Well, the old man, a shrewd judge of feminine pulchritude, assumed Kitty
was his date.
“Man, you’re gorgeous!” he said,
and then suavely turning to my future mother, Marion, who was demurely
adjusting her stocking seam, exclaimed, “And you’re no crow either!”
Fortunately they managed to
straighten things out, and two years later, I was born.
Our families were very close in
those early days. Our folks would take turns hosting Sunday dinners. As kids we
knew we could always count on a great meal. While the folks lingered over their
martinis, we would delight in one of Kitty’s sumptuous dinners, many times
involving a char-broiled steak. We were in heaven. We could never quite
understand Cousin Sean, who would eschew a New York Strip for his monkish fare
of hot dogs and chocolate milk.
Occasionally there would be
surprises in addition to dinner. Uncle Harvey would always look out for our
family as his own. One memorable evening following a fudgesicle dessert we were
treated to polio shots! Harvey
had scored the first batch of Dr. Jonas Salk’s vaccine, and he wanted us to be
prepared. A few years later, it was a much more pleasant experience to let a
sugar cube with the oral Sabin vaccine melt on our tongues.
When I entered dental school at
the University of Minnesota, Harvey
introduced me to Dr. Norm Holte, the dean of dental sports medicine. Dr. Holte
became my mentor. Just by following him around in my spare time, I received
what I consider a minor residency in oral surgery that gave me the confidence
to practice true general dentistry in my small town of Aitkin,
Harvey taught me what it meant to be a
good and caring doctor. I can truly say that a day never went by when I didn’t
think of him and thank God for his influence on me. I am happy that I had
several occasions to express these feelings and my gratitude to Harvey. Harvey
made me well aware that I always had a standing invitation to lunch with him at
Town and Country if I was in the Cities. To my eternal regret, I never took him
up on it.
Larry Meskin was quite a
fisherman. We had always planned to go
muskie fishing together (he had never caught one). It would have been fun to guide him to
one. How often we let those
opportunities slip away, never to be realized.
God bless Larry and Harvey and their families, may perpetual light shine upon
them, and may they rest in eternal peace.
*Dr. Stein is Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry. He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minn.,