Opinion: Remembering a close friend and public servant

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There will never be another Dr. Pat Keener. This dear friend of the Wolfsies passed away two weeks ago. Even if her name is not familiar to you, her lifelong dedication to the health of this city — indeed the nation — should not be forgotten. Among a score of accomplishments, this dedicated pediatrician and neonatologist founded the Indianapolis Campaign for Healthy Babies back in 1989 that improved the dismal children’s mortality rate in central Indiana. She also was the founder of the Safe Sitter Program, a national training initiative to teach teens how to be better babysitters. The program covers everything from whether it’s OK for sitters to raid the fridge to how to save a choking toddler.

For the past 40 years, Pat was resolute in finding appealing little snippets in magazines and newspapers, cutting them out and sending them to me via snail mail. I always looked forward to seeing what was in each next installment.

If it weren’t for Pat, I wouldn’t know that:

  • It is possible to lead a cow upstairs but not downstairs.
  • A duck’s quack doesn’t echo, and no one knows why.
  • The shape of a Pringle is a hyperbolic paraboloid.

Dr. Pat once mutilated a brand-new copy of the “New England Journal of Medicine” so she could send me an article saying babies are born with about 300 bones, but by the time they reach adulthood, these bones will have fused together to form 206 bones.

There is something about opening a manilla envelope fresh from the mailbox and having several pieces of a newspaper article (that was continued on three different pages) tumble out across the kitchen table and flutter to the floor. Just fitting it all together was always a challenge, and I must admit that I have probably read the parts in the wrong order more than once.

My mother also used to send me newspaper articles with references to people I knew from years earlier. She usually included a little note with each article: “Thought you’d want to see this. Wasn’t he a friend of yours?” Mom asked.

I know my mother’s heart was in the right place, but obituaries didn’t quite cheer me up the way Pat’s articles did. Pat read everything, so I always wanted to look smart when I was with her. One evening, she and her husband, Garry, were out to dinner with Mary Ellen and me. I tried to jazz up the conversation. “Pat, did you know that an ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain?”

“I did,” she said. “I’m the one who sent you the article.”

There is so much about this incredible woman that I will miss. There was a wonderful write-up about her in the newspaper when she passed away. In her honor, I cut out the article … and mailed it to several of my friends.


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