Jansen, M.D., G. Thomas
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Dr. G. Thomas Jansen, originally of Manitowoc, passed away peacefully in Little Rock, AR, on Sept. 14, 2010, surrounded by family in prayer.
You could fill the obituary page and then some with the awards and honors given to Dr. G. Thomas Jansen of Little Rock during his career in dermatology. The printer's ink would run dry recounting the number of associations he presided over, students he taught and patients he helped. (His research was even featured in LIFE magazine!) But professional achievements and civic acknowledgments don't take the full measure of a man. Indeed, it's not fair to measure Tom Jansen strictly by his career, impressive as it was; it's much more telling to consider the affect Jansen had on others. Family, friends, acquaintances, rich, poor or in-between, Jansen treated them the same -- with the kind of respect and dignity that seems a throwback to an earlier era when a series of simple, elegant gestures did much to keep the world civil.
If you have lived in Little Rock for any length of time, you've undoubtedly met somebody who knew Dr. Jansen. And that somebody probably said something about what a gentleman he was. A gentleman. He is a rare breed in 21st century America, that fellow who treats others as he would wish to be treated, who is courteous even to those who might deserve a swift kick, who raises the level of public discourse whether he's talking about the latest medical procedure, yesterday's golf tournament, or the virtues of the Perfect Manhattan.
How to sum up a life so full in such small space? Impossible, of course. But we know where to start -- with family. Thomas Jansen was married to the former Frances Bovick for 58 years and eight days, and the lot of them were spent as newlyweds. They held hands more than teenagers on a second date, and every night that Dr. Jansen had dinner alone with his bride (no kids!), they dined by candlelight. They burned through a lot of candles.
Tom met Fran on Oct. 27, 1951, when he was a navy doctor assigned to a marine base at Camp Lejeune, NC, and she was there visiting her sister and brother-in-law. When Tom saw Fran walk by his office in a red dress, he swept into action, promptly asking for an introduction. They were engaged six weeks later, married Sept. 6, 1952, and the rest is blessed family history.
Tom must have been the begrudged guest at parties when asked about the kids. For his children -- sons Mark, Kurt and Drew; daughters Anne and Fran -- have succeeded in the kinds of careers that make other parents roll envious eyes: doctor, aerospace engineer, musician and writer, television journalist, and communications director. Surely even his old hunting dogs, Pete, Nemo and Moby, were model canines. (Well, maybe not Pete.)
A Southern gentleman by choice, Jansen moved to Little Rock from Ann Arbor, Mich., with his wife and 1-year-old son in 1956. He was convinced to head south by the late Dr. Calvin J. Dillaha, a former partner who lured Jansen with prospects of a teaching job at the medical school, a private practice in dermatology in a state desperate for dermatologists, and the chance to build a dermatology department from scratch. Today, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences doesn't just have a dermatology department but an endowed chair named for G. Thomas and Frances B. Jansen. And heaven knows how many dermatologists Jansen trained.
The move below the Mason-Dixon for this Wisconsin boy (and Omaha girl) proved a perfect fit. Tom Jansen made medical history, and The Jansens, seven strong and rooted deeply in the community and their church, Our Lady of the Holy Souls, quickly became one of those families that most of Little Rock seemed to know -- or know of. At its head was the gracious patriarch.
He spent decades teaching pro bono at UAMS, and was a polite request away from helping anybody with anything. One weekend at the Jansens' favorite retreat at Mountain Harbor resort on Lake Ouachita, a man knocked on the family's cabin door. Jansen answered to see a fellow standing before him with a fish hook in his head. The good doctor "operated" on the spot.
About the lake. It was Jansen's summer passion for more than 40 years, combining family with the outdoors and the natural beauty of his beloved adopted state. He water-skied well into his 70s trailing behind the family boat that went from newly purchased to museum-ready antique over the course of those many summers.
He also loved to quail hunt and golf, though never on Sundays. Sundays were family days. No, that's not quite right. Family days were 24/7 365 in Thomas Jansen's wonderful world.
If you dropped by the Jansens -- same house for almost five decades -- and weren't greeted by a bellowing "Hell-eww!" from Dr. J., then you could find him in his study, surrounded by his model antique cars (ask about Packards if you had an hour to kill) and his other love, books.
He introduced some of us to Walker Percy, the last great Catholic novelist, which seems appropriate. It was Percy who wrote "The Last Gentleman," a title that fit the dapper Gerald Thomas Jansen like one of his finely tailored suits. The man had style outside and in.
It was in that study that he kept a laminated copy of a column written long ago by Syd Herman for a newspaper in Wisconsin. The column was about Tom Jansen's father, Gerald (Jerry) Jansen, upon his death after a similar family- and friend-filled life. The column ends:
"Jerry Jansen's obit doesn't have to be written in printer's ink. It has already been written indelibly on the hearts of those whose lives he has touched. And if this type isn't as blurred to you as it is to me, it's because my eyes are wetter than yours."
If you can still read through this blurry type, the record demands at least a partial list of all those awards and honors bestowed on G. Thomas Jansen, if only to show a younger generation that, yes, it is possible to have it all -- both a career and a life that touched others: president of the American Dermatologic Association, the American Academy of Dermatology, the Southern Medical Association, and the national Dermatology Foundation; one of only 30 people since 1962 to have received the Gold Medal from the Academy of Dermatology for his contributions to the field; elected to the UAMS College of Medicine Hall of Fame; given the Distinguished Service Award from UAMS; recognized for his role, along with Drs. Dillaha, Mage Honeycutt, and Calvin Bradford, in the clinical definition of the brown recluse spider bite and research in spider venom, research that was featured in LIFE magazine; founding member of the College of Mohs Micrographic Surgery and responsible for bringing the Mohs excision technique to Arkansas; recipient of the Medical Alumni Citation Award, the highest honor given by the Medical Alumni Association; and a member of the Serra Club, a Catholic group that promotes vocations, the Knights of Columbus, and the Arkansas Traveler Antique Automobile Club.
Dr. Jansen is survived by his wife Frances; Dr. Mark Jansen and his wife Cindy; Kurt; Anne and her husband Dr. Ralph Broadwater; Drew; and Fran and her husband Kane Webb. He is also survived by eight grandchildren: Neal Jansen and his wife Mariko; Suzanne Jansen Yerton and husband Caleb; Benjamin, Spencer, and Brooks Jansen; John and Michael Broadwater; and Grace Anne Webb. In addition, he is survived by his brother Jack of Gooding, ID, and his sister Mary Frieder and her husband Tom of Manitowoc.
He was preceded in death by his parents Gerald and Sarah Jansen.
He is also remembered by dear family friend Jimmy Martin of Minnesota, and other friends and colleagues too numerous to mention.
Services were held in Little Rock at Ruebel Funeral Home and Our Lady of the Holy Souls Catholic Church.
Published in Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter on May 18, 2014