In 1997 I had the good fortune to meet up close and personal two of my heroes outside of the field of medicine. Both of these individuals would be considered, by all both fully or marginally knowledgeable about their fields, as masters of their crafts.
The first of these was in the field of sports. Golf specifically. The Ford Senior Players Championship was held annually at the TPC Dearborn course. Henry Ford Health System was a tournament sponsor, and, as such, was provided a team spot in the pro-am event that proceeded the tournament. Three Henry Ford trustees were chosen to play with a yet to be determined professional in a tournament before the tournament. About a week before the event, one of the trustees suffered an injury that prevented him from playing.
Out of the clear blue, our CEO, Gail Warden, gave me a call and asked if I would like to be the substitute player for the pro-am event. I jumped at the chance and attended a party the night before the event where a drawing of players took place to determine which of the pros our amateur team would be playing. My wife and I were doing the usual grazing that is done at these parties and did not spend a lot of time looking to see what teams and players were paired. The more notable players, like Gary Player, Chi Chi Rodriguez and Jack Nicklaus, were the last players to be paired.
Time passed and my wife asked who we were paired with. To my surprise, four players were left on the board, and the Henry Ford team had not been chosen. Suddenly my interest was piqued, mainly because, no matter in what order we were chosen, we would be playing the next day with a golfing legend. Golf Channel commentator Mark Rolfing went down to the final two teams, and then announced that the team from Henry Ford would be playing with the accepted greatest golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus.
Playing with Jack Nicklaus was a dream. Starting on the back side, hundreds of spectators were lining the tee and fairway waiting to see Nicklaus tee off. Before that occurred, they had to suffer through the amateurs. I chose a 3-wood and prayed that I would make, first, contact with the club, and second, no contact with a spectator. Mission accomplished, I proceeded to duff my second shot and then air mailed my third shot over the green. Nicklaus’ caddy walked by me and said, “I think you can just pick up.” Fortunately my play got a bit better over the next 17 holes.
It was an honor to see a master of his craft up close. How he approached each shot, how he thought his way down the fairway, how he was very into competing (he really wanted our team to place as high as we could). He was professional, focused and engaging. He gave me advice that was well founded, not with my swing but with thinking what shot to make. If he had putted reasonably well, he would have shot 62. After the round, he was gracious with the team and with spectators, a great ambassador of the sport and a gentleman in all regards.
Later in the summer of 1997, my best friend, Roger, invited me to attend a birthday party in Birmingham.
“Why would I want to attend the birthday party of someone that I do not know?” I asked him.
“I think you will make an exception,” Roger replied. “The party is at the home of Elmore Leonard.”
I was absolutely hooked on Elmore Leonard’s books after reading a paperback copy of “City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit” (1980) I found in a condo where I was staying in Florida. What a story. Detroit-based, essentially a Western in a modern urban setting. A homicide detective and a perp, both could have been plucked from a 1950s Western, Westerns that Elmore Leonard cut his literary teeth writing pulp fiction. The dialogue (the “patois” of cops, criminals and regular Joes) was one element that was so unique, phrasing of what I was so familiar listening for years in the city, the emergency department and the street. The elimination of “he said” in the writing, segues directly into the words of the character.
I devoured as many Elmore Leonard writings as possible. Old novels, short stories, pulp fiction, all displaying the unique style and captivating story telling of Leonard.
Meeting with Leonard was a dream, as well. I had the opportunity to talk to him for over a half hour. I went to the study where he wrote his pieces, all in long hand on yellow pads that were typed by his daughter into manuscripts. He explained to me that his writing was creating characters, putting them in situations, and then writing the story as it played out in his head, then on paper. No outline, no story board, just plain storytelling, spinning yarns.
I asked him why he did not have any stories about doctors or medicine. He initially told me he was not as familiar with doctors as he was cops and criminals. When I pressed him, he said, “Doctors are just not that interesting.” Ouch.
Elmore Leonard has been acknowledged by many as one of the greatest crime writers, some say greatest American writers, of the 20th Century. He is in a small group of writers who revolutionized a genre through a writing style that was unique, expressive and immersive to the reader. He was and still is my favorite writer.
We don’t often get opportunities of this nature in our lives. But in that summer 20 years ago, I met two of my heroes, masters in their divergent crafts, and simply personal inspirations.
Ever have a similar experience?