A butterfly lights beside us like a sunbeam
And for a brief moment its glory
and beauty belong to our world
But then it flies again
And though we wish it could have stayed…
We feel lucky to have seen it.
I just learned of the passing of one of our world’s most special people. My friend Dr. Connie Pittman has left us. I always found her to be humble, kind, brilliant, effective and the best role model I ever met. She served in many capacities with some of the most prestigious global institutions and organizations. She was tireless and no activity was too menial if it contributed to the welfare of others.
She traveled the world sharing her wisdom and expertise in the interest of both medicine and the causes she believed in. We had a special friendship and she would often call me to check on my health and to discuss our common interests. She even allowed me to collaborate on a few articles for publication and speeches to be given by leaders of Kiwanis International. Often she would call to tell me how much joy she got from her grandchildren or to report on Jim, her husbands latest adventure. Jim is also a renowned and highly regarded physician and educator. As Connie’s health waned I no longer received the check up calls and we no longer were in touch. Even though we hadn’t spoken she was often on my mind. I have been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet and some times even work with a wide variety of leaders and smart people but none of them shined as brightly as my small, dear Chinese friend, Dr. Constance Pittman. Here in part is the notice of her death that was sent to me by a friend.
PITTMAN, CONSTANCE SHEN January 2, 1929 – January 15, 2010
Constance Shen Pittman, M.D. died January 15, 2010. She was 81 years old and recently had been in declining health. A physician, researcher, educator, mother, grandmother and wife, Dr. Pittman leaves a brilliant legacy of compassion and service. Her dedication, especially in the fight against iodine deficiency, has improved the lives of thousands of people throughout the world. A native of Beijing, China, Dr. Pittman, then known as Ming-Chung Shen, first worked in healthcare in a makeshift operating room along the Burma Road during WWII. She was 16 when she traveled alone to the U.S. to attend Walnut Hill School for the Arts, a boarding school near Boston, MA. She attended Wellesley College, and was graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1955. That year, she married James A. Pittman, M.D. She went on to complete her residency training in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where, in 1961, she accepted a teaching position at the Medical School. She spent the rest of her career as a clinician, researcher in endocrinology and, later, as a worldwide representative in the fight against iodine deficiency, the world’s most prevalent, preventable cause of mental retardation. She described herself as lucky to have such a clear passion for service, saying, "I was inspired to go into medicine and then later in life I found my second calling when I visited China and saw the tremendous problem of iodine deficiency there." For many years, Dr. Pittman worked tirelessly with Kiwanis International, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF to raise funds to eliminate iodine deficiency worldwide by increasing salt iodization, testing and monitoring, and improving community outreach and education globally. In recent years, she has been building an endowment for worldwide nutrition to carry on her work. Nominated as a Local Legend of Medicine by U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, Dr. Pittman received numerous commendations including the Kiwanis Club’s Andrew Gerow Hodges Service Award (2005), as well as the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award (1991) and the Best Teaching Clinical Professor Award (1991), both from the University of Alabama Medical School. She is listed in The Best Doctors in America (1992), and received the Alabama Medical Association 50-year Service Award (2005). She is widely published and served as chief of the Thyroid Research Laboratory for the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Washington, D.C (1971-1973), director of the Endocrine Training Program for the University of Alabama School of Medicine (1973-1992), and a member of the International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disease Board of Directors. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her memory to Kiwanis International Foundation – IDD Endowment, 3636 Woodview Trace, Indianapolis, IN 46268-3196.
Here is a memorial poem written by British poet David Harkins that might have been written for Connie
“You can shed tears that she is gone,
or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back,
or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her,
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her only that she is gone,
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back.
Or you can do what she’d want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”
I hope you don’t mind but I am going to skip the humor today and us the time remembering the hours I shared with my friend.
Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,
love leaves a memory no one can steal.
From a headstone in Ireland
Stay well, do good work, and have fun.
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The editor is somewhat senile.
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