Much has been said about Carolyn Reed since she died, even before she died when she was fighting a disease she knew so well, cancer.
Because so much has been said and written, these remarks will be personal, not biographical and hopefully not too long.
I remember first meeting Carolyn on my arrival here because Senator Hollings and Fred Crawford had said I needed to get to know her. As leader of the Cancer Center she had inherited what many termed a “mess,” but like the excellent surgeon that she was she was determined to fix it.
We would meet weekly and each time I would say: “what can I do to help?” and she would usually say: “I got it under control” and give me that famous very toothy smile that just made everyone smile.
As time went on, it was clear that Carolyn had 2 passions and those 2 passions were in a clear order: 1) her patients and 2) her cancer center.
There was nothing she would not do for either. Many a night she would be at the bedside in the ICU caring for her freshly operated patients – this after spending many hours during the day standing at the operating table with the very same patient. She reminded me of another pioneering surgeon, John Kirklin at Birmingham, whose patients' immediate postoperative care was frequently overseen personally by him, as Carolyn would do.
Her patients were aware of her long hours and devotion and many told her, and many more have written their thanks for all of us to read on her obituary page on the internet – some will bring you to tears and all will inform you of the love and devotion she earned from her patients.
I only remember one patient that she seemed powerless to comfort or cure and that was herself. When I visited her last in the ICU at ART she said: “you know the prognosis,” and I was at a loss for words – I felt totally inadequate in finding the right thing to say to this person who had done so much, for so long for all her many patients.
It seemed a cruel irony that after helping so many overcome cancer she succumbed to the disease herself at too early an age. She had helped so many survive, but we could not match the feat.
Her second passion was the Hollings Cancer Center, and make no mistake she was a great leader and did so much for the center organizationally and administratively – that is why many of you are here. And she did this while maintaining a full surgical schedule and also teaching the thoracic residents. She served as an incredible role model for our students – most of whom had never seen a female surgeon.
In one of our weekly meetings in 2004, we were discussing the strategy to get National Cancer Institute designation. This had been a goal for the Hollings since it was created years earlier, but we had not gotten very far until Carolyn assumed the role of director. However, on this fateful day in our conversation she said: “you know hardly any NCI cancer centers are directed by a surgeon – Hollings needs a medical oncologist to be the director.”
She clearly had thought long and hard about this and said that our best chance to get designation would be with an oncologist at the head of Hollings, so she gracefully and unselfishly explained she wanted to serve only until her replacement could be recruited – someone who was a medical oncologist.
Carolyn stepped aside so that Andrew Kraft could come, and with her help and a lot of others – we got HCC designated by the NCI.
This was Carolyn Reed – not about herself, but about her patients and her desire for this center to reach goals that she felt only possible with different leadership. Few people are as selfless yet accomplished as Carolyn Reed was.
In closing I will quote William Faulkner - selectively modifying the pronouns he used – making “he” a “she” in places (I believe Faulkner would approve, and he would also approve his words written about poets being used for a physician like Carolyn Reed). These words are especially germaine as we immortalize Carolyn with the naming of the Hollings Cancer Center floor in her honor. Quoting Faulkner:
“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. She is immortal, not because she alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because she has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance… It is her privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of her past.”
William Faulkner to the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1950