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An Aha! to Relish

January 6, 2012

Hey, we all like to make discoveries. We like that rush, that spectacular pleasure of having stumbled upon something wonderful, something that’s just right, that’s just perfect for that moment. Perhaps it’s a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that pulls at your nostalgia strings and takes you back to tastes and smells of your grandmother’s table, or the quaint alley you veered down in Britain, only to discover a hidden abbey where a group of ancient monks once dwelt, or that perfectly romantic getaway where your life’s love was sealed. These moments you can’t anticipate and cannot recreate—you can only relish them.

Last night was such a night for me. I was sitting in the crowded San Carlos Theatre, hogging the aisle at the Key West Literary Seminar, when a sling-armed man stumbled over me to take the adjacent seat. He plopped down and spilled over into my seat. He told me about his arm, that he’d recently had surgery on his rotator cuff and blah, blah, blah. I asked him where he was from and how he heard about the conference, and he said that someone in his office mentioned it to him, so he came.

“What kind of work do you do?”

“I work at a university, in administration. But it’s a fairly new job.”

An admissions counselor, I thought, or maybe a development dog.

“Are you a reader or a writer?” I asked because both types flood this conference.

“Both,” he said. “But I write more in the scientific and academic arena, although I’m working on a memoir about my research and work with

bearded women.”

Bearded Oprah


“What about you?” he asked.

“I’m in publishing, mainly nonfiction.”

He told me more about his bearded book, and I asked him if he had a publisher, to which he replied, “Well, the university has a press, but I’m thinking about going outside.”

Right. So he can’t get his own school to touch it.

Now, I have to tell you that after he described the book, I really wanted to hear more about the project. It was fascinating, and I still want to know more. Do you have any idea how many women actually grow beards—and not for the circus? A lot, apparently. It’s a hormone thing, has something to do with androgen, and it’s not an easy life. He told me to start looking for facial hair on women, that I’d be quite surprised.

“So your job at the university is new?” I asked. “What kind of administrative position is it?”

“Oh, I’m actually the um … I’m the President.”


“What university did you say?”

“Georgia Health Science University in Augusta. It’s the medical center for the University of Georgia system.”

Double gulp.

The lights went down and the seminar started, and my seat-mate and I, now bonded over the beards, found a camaraderie that other writers know when they experience it. Writers “get” other writers, and when we’re listening to great writers like William Gibson talking about speculative fiction, we get them, too. We are in love with words.

When it was over, he gave me his email address and said he would look for me tomorrow, and would I mind if he sent me a sample of his writing?

“Please do. I look forward to it.” And I meant that. I really, really want to see his writing.

But what I was really looking forward to was getting to my computer so I could google the guy. Here’s what I discovered:

He’s a physician-scientist-executive with extensive leadership experience in biomedical research, medical education, and health care.

He’s is the President of Georgia Health Sciences University and CEO of the Medical College of Georgia.

He has an M.D., a Ph.D., a Masters in Public Health, and an MBA.

He is the former head of Ob/Gyn at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, a faculty member at UCLA, has been on prestigious boards like the NIH, and he has already authored six textbooks, with a new one on the way.

And yet, my greatest discovery was this: I met a supremely accomplished man, yet he was not interested in trying to impress me or anyone else, who was so humble that he wouldn’t dare wave his credentials like a hanky, much less a flag. I discovered that there are still men like that, men who know that it’s impolite—not to mention boring—to introduce their reputation before their person, and who don’t really care if you ever find them out. But I did find him out, and it was a great moment, a WOW! experience, a really fun discovery—made even more thrilling because he wasn’t there to see it.

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