Today’s post is from science reference librarian Stephanie (Sam) Marcus.
So you think you have a cool job? Here in the World’s Largest Library, there’s always something going on: lectures, special programs, concerts and exhibits. And you never know who you’re going to see in these hallowed halls: famous authors, actors and musicians, Poets Laureate old and new, maybe even the President or Royalty if you’ve been tapped to participate in a special event.
Back on April 24, 2000, the Library of Congress celebrated its bicentennial. As part of the celebration, the Library selected a number of outstanding individuals as Living Legends and invited them to receive medallions at an outdoor ceremony during the Library’s National Birthday Party. They also attended the unveiling of a bicentennial stamp, a special luncheon and an evening cocktail reception which included a fabulous buffet and a tour of the exhibit of the books Thomas Jefferson sold to the US Congress and which became the foundation of the Library. To see the current full list of Living Legends, which includes both Larry Bird and Big Bird, go to the archived Living Legends website.
Some lucky staffers were asked to escort the Legends for the day and I was chosen to accompany Dr. Michael E. DeBakey . For a science librarian, that’s like being asked to spend the day with a rock star. Haven’t heard of him? Are you old enough to have been a fan of the TV series “M*A*S*H”? During WWII, Dr. DeBakey wanted to move doctors to the front lines, creating the early version of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital next used in the Korean War. However, Dr. D is better known for the medical devices he created and the incredible advances he made in cardiovascular surgery. He even had one of his own creations, the DeBakey Procedure, performed on him at age 97 to repair an aortic dissection. DeBakey was also a lover of libraries and was instrumental in the creation of our sister library, the National Library of Medicine on the NIH campus.
Our day began at 9 a.m. when I met Dr. DeBakey and accompanied him to a welcome reception. The Press and others, including other Legends, were all over the famous 92-year old heart surgeon–in fact, throughout all the events, he seemed to be the most sought-after person, and I was thrilled to be standing next to him. This man was tireless and interested in the details of absolutely everything he saw or heard. He told me he was still doing heart surgery now and then–he didn’t want to, because he didn’t really have the time for patient followup–but sometimes he just couldn’t refuse a friend or colleague. I marveled at his hands, which were totally steady. He offered some of his secrets to a long life: he drank strong coffee (after all, he was a Louisiana boy), never smoked, and always took the stairs. My observation of him was also that you have to stay curious, do what you love and keep doing it until you drop.
At lunch in the Jefferson Building’s beautiful Members Room, I sat next to Bobby Short (cabaret singer and pianist at New York’s Café Carlyle for over 35 years) and chatted with violinist Isaac Stern (both now deceased). Afterwards we visited with DeBakey’s longtime friend, Librarian of Congress James Billington , in the Librarian’s ceremonial office in the Jefferson. And then we met with a young journalist from US News & World Report for an interview! No naps for the world’s most famous surgeon.
By the time the evening events started, I was really tired and hungry. I looked longingly at the food laid out for us, but Dr. DeBakey insisted we visit a special exhibit on Thomas Jefferson instead. He examined each item on exhibit, discussing every one of them.
We parted past 9 that evening, after agreeing that he would return again soon to see some special items in our Manuscript and Rare Books collections. And that he did, so I was able to see him once again. Alas, he passed away on July 11, 2008, just short of his 100th birthday.