(A Tribute to Carl A. Whitaker)
By Tom M. Saunders, PhD
Carl Alanson Whitaker, M.D. is returning to be with the cool moist earth today in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Springtime is Carl's favorite time of year and Mother Earth is greeting him with open arms. The sun is shining brightly with a crystal blue sky. Every tree is budding. Every crocus is pushing its way through the unfrozen soil.
Carl left many conferences to catch an earlier flight just to be with Muriel, his wife of nearly sixty years, and his "farm" in nearby Nashotah. He talked often of trying to till the soil before the bitter winter freeze had gone. Born on February 20, 1912, in the frozen white cold of Whitaker Falls, New York, Carl was raised on a dairy farm ". . .where my only friends were the animals." He later said that this had hampered his social skills, but anyone who has ever experienced his warmth would question that. Carl set a new benchmark for the definition of "gentle man."
When his later formal training taught him how to be a doctor, an obstetrician, and later, a psychiatrist, the "country" and the "boy" that made being with Carl such a rich experience, were left intact. He never stopped being a farmer or believing in strong family centered values. His six children and their own families attest to that.
As a teacher, Carl was unparalleled. Putting all formal protocol aside, he constantly shared his own feelings, fantasies, and dreams. He once presented at a three-day conference in Philadelphia just a few days after a person who then killed himself in her office murdered one of his favorite psychiatric residents. Most would have stayed at home and grieved privately. Carl shared his tears and his grief quite publicly, and warned us to take better care of our own lives - - especially about how we choose to live and die one day at a time.
Taking such a stand was neither new nor difficult for Carl. Just one year out of psychiatric training, he delivered a position paper about drug dependency that would not even be popular yet today. Stating that '. . .after one year of being a psychiatrist, I have decided that I cannot be a good therapist and a drug dealer at the same time. . .', he physically destroyed his narcotics license and never again renewed it. When medication was needed, the individual was referred to another psychiatrist so that Carl could better consult with the whole family.
The last few years of Winter have been fought with unbelievable courage. Plagued by multiple strokes, infections, and pneumonia, Carl waged an incredible battle - - with the same strength and determination by which he had lived his entire life. Today is Springtime which, in the full circle of life, always follows Winter. Carl's spirit lives on in the thousands of lives who he touched, either for the moment, or in years of unending friendship.
Today is forever Spring.
April 25, 1995, Brookfield, Wisconsin
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