A Surprise Recognition

Though I didn’t set out to tell the story of Gary’s graduation from medical school, it has been the thread that has pulled me along. His graduation was momentous, for Gary, of course, but for all of us. It was a culmination and a beginning.

I had stopped work at the Finance Department to prepare for our move and enjoy all the festivities leading up to the graduation ceremony. And there were festivities! Other than packing, both of us were without responsibilities for the first time in years, as were our friends, and that led to some serious celebrating. Gary and I were never major party-ers, but we gave it our best shot that week.

The graduation ceremony was held on the Tuesday after Memorial Day, May 29, 1986. In addition, the senior awards ceremony was conducted separately, before the weekend. The schedule clearly was not made with out of town guests in mind. Our families weren’t able to come to Pittsburgh for that long of a stretch. They came into town on Sunday. This was quite unfortunate because our families missed what may have been the highlight of graduation.

We knew Gary was getting an award, but we didn’t know what it would be. We got to the room where the ceremony was held, eager with anticipation, and most of the seats were already taken. We nodded hellos to his classmates as we made our way to two open chairs toward the back. The room wasn’t an auditorium, as I recall, it was more like a mid-size ballroom, set up with a podium at one end and rows of chairs. Awards in different categories were given, for different specialties. The Heard Senior Prize, honorable mention, for excellence in Medicine, went to Gary. First prize went to Monica Parise. Gary was not surprised, he believed Monica was very deserving. I was a bit disappointed, tremendously proud, but a little let down on Gary’s behalf. We didn’t know there was more to come.

More awards were given. We were coming to the end of the ceremony. The announcer presented the Jamie Sheehan Memorial award, voted on by the students, given to the “individual who is most aware that the role of the physician is to serve and honor the patient and who is most sensitive to the healing power of the doctor-patient relationship” to Gary Bakst. This was completely unexpected. Gary had said nothing to me about the vote. Later he told me that he had no thought that anyone would vote for him. He voted for a classmate who was instrumental in setting up a clinic for unemployed steelworkers. But, his classmates saw something, a quality that I knew well.

Gary got up to receive the award and the audience rose, as well. He got a standing ovation! I was smiling ear-to-ear, clapping, trying to take it all in. I did have one stray thought: I never realized how short Gary is! I couldn’t see him. I stood on my tiptoes, straining, trying to follow him as he made his way down the aisle to the front – to no avail. That was a ridiculous observation, of course, in the midst of the pride and pleasure in his recognition.


I was only sorry that his family wasn’t there to see it. Damn the planners!!! But I would be sure to tell them all about it.  Meanwhile, we celebrated. It had been a long, hard four years for both of us. We earned that celebration. We weren’t our best selves by the time our families arrived on Sunday, but we managed to rally.

Next week: Graduation 

10 thoughts on “A Surprise Recognition

  1. It is wonderful to read of the well-deserved recognition that Gary secured during his time in medical school. Gary is a true mensch in every aspect of his life-both personal as well as professional. He consistently demonstrates compassion and empathy for his patients and his friends. It is no wonder that his entire family is so proud of him. In short, despite the title of this piece being “A Surprise Recognition” I was not surprised at all.


  2. Linda…. so you think that Gary merits praise for his classmates observations??? I know a doctor who 22 years ago showed up unannounced at the ER to make sure my son was getting the best treatment possible (this doctor was not my son’s doctor); that same doctor, 2 years ago, spent countless time on the phone providing insight and guidance when (my same) son was afflicted with a very serious illness. Now that is a doctor who deserves a blog about him. …Oh, now that I think about it, that Doctor is Gary….


  3. Well, I must say that I am very touched and flattered by the kind words by Linda and by Jay and Mark. Thank you. And, as long as I am bragging, I will add that I also won the physiology award. Beyond that, I don’t remember anything about that weekend. At least nothing that I will admit to.


  4. I’m curious as to how the other med students faired in their careers especially the Parise person who is listed as an award winner multiple of time.


  5. Let me add my voice to the chorus of those who have great admiration and respect for Gary.
    Two stories come to mind. In 1995, our family traveled to Albany for Josh’s Bar Mitzvah. All was fine until during the service, Paul, who was 5 at the time, grew fussy and couldn’t be comforted. By the time we got to the reception at a restaurant, he was beside himself, saying his ear hurt. Gary quickly sprang into action, escorting us to his office, checking Paul’s ears, and after determining he did indeed have an infection, provided the medicine. Off we all went back to the reception. I will never forget his kindness that day. I also learned the value of always travelling with Children’s Motrin.
    Story #2: In July of 2010, Ira was going solo to New Jersey for Barbara’s 60th Birthday party. Zach and I were with family friends for dinner in Lexington. On the ride home, I started having chest pains, felt short of breath and had to pull over. I ended up driving to the hospital in Concord where I was given a complete cardiac workup. It did not turn out to be heart related, but a bad case of acid reflux and gastritis. Gary called several times after I got home, offering advice and referrals if I wanted to pursue further testing. It was so thoughtful, During that time, I located a book Simma had gifted me with many years before. It was a Yiddish dictionary. I turned to the page that said “Mensch.” And there was a picture of Gary.


    1. Thank you, Mary, for sharing those anecdotes. I remember feeling so badly for Ira, having to drive back alone, worrying about you (of course, we were all worried about you, too!). I’m glad Gary was able to help.


  6. Monica was very nice but she was not in the group of people I was closest to in med school. I Googled her and she is the head of the Center for Disease Control’s division of parasitic diseases. In general, some of the people I knew went into academics and research, some are doing some very innovative work and most, like me are doing clinical work. By and large, they are doing great things and have had outstanding careers.


  7. My reply is lost to cyberspace but to reply again,I am not surprised. Because he has always shown his caring to his patients by calling them in the evening when I am visiting. He has shown his love to his children in many ways, including his daily emailings, and helping them carve pumpkins at Halloween. And so many ways he is always there for our family. I probably don’t say it often, but I do love him and glad he’s part of our family


  8. As others have said, Gary is wonderful in many ways, both personal and professional. My children have had various endocrine issues over the years and I have had many phone calls where Gary paitiently provided information, eased my fears, and helped me talk through options. He was always available to talk and offered to help any time. So gracious and generous!! Gary, thanks for becoming such a wise and compassionate doctor and for being our friend. Linda, I understand why we’re proud in that moment and to this day.


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