Saturday, August 2, 2008

Rosehip: Gordon K. MacLeod MD's - my father - Memorial Service on Cuttyhunk Island

Gordon K MacLeod MD’s Memorial Service

January 30, 1929 – November 25, 2007
Cuttyhunk Island, Massachusetts - August 2, 2008

I’d like to honor my father’s passing with a brief history of his life.

My parents met in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the Unitarian Church in the mid-1950s. They married there in 1957 on August 17.

My father grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, and went to Boston Latin School. He came to Cincinnati first to work at Proctor and Gamble as an industrial engineer, and then to go to the University of Cincinnati Medical School in the early 1950s. After marrying, they moved to Boston for my father’s internship in internal medicine at the Boston City Massachusetts General Hospital, and then, after, to a research position at Harvard Medical School.

Sandy and I were both born at Mt. Auburn hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1964 and 1960, respectively. Sandy, my brother, is now a sculptor (see his web site at - was: Both of our wide-ranging interests reflect my father’s active, open thinking.

My father loved Cuttyhunk Island a lot, where rosehips abound in the summer. He came here first as a school kid in 1943. We started coming to Cuttyhunk in 1966, the year we moved to Hamden, Connecticut, where my father took a position at Yale University, working on the development of group practice and community health plans at the Yale Medical School.

Cuttyhunk Island has been a place of continuity and community for my father and mother, through a number of moves in their lives, prior to their move to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1973.

My father was Cuttyhunk Island’s principal medical doctor during his vacations in August each year in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, and provided medical advice for many who needed it for free.

My parents moved to the Washington DC area in 1971 where my father began the federal Health Maintenance Organizations' (HMOs) program, under Elliot Richardson in the department of Health, Education and Welfare. We stayed there until 1973, when he took a position at the University of Pittsburgh, in the Graduate School of Public Health. During the two years we lived in Bethesda, Maryland, we spent 6 months living in Geneva, Switzerland, from 1972-1973, utilizing a Ford Foundation Grant to study the health systems of three European countries in Denmark, Germany and Britain.

While at the University of Pittsburgh, my father ( - and -, in 1979, was asked by the then Governor Dick Thornburg to serve as the secretary of health in the state of Pennsylvania. Thornburg picked my father for this position because he had already set up a federal health program, and was recommended by a close adviser of his. Soon after this appointment - 12 days - the Three Mile Island nuclear accident occurred in central Pennsylvania. My father, the official responsible for managing the health issues, later openly criticized the Thornburg administration’s lack of preparedness for two main reasons. They didn’t have any physicians on what was the equivalent of Pennsylvania’s nuclear regulatory commission to bring forward health considerations in planning for the existing nuclear plants, – it only had engineers. And Pennsylvania didn’t have any potassium iodide stockpiled; potassium iodide protects the thyroid gland from radiation in the event of radiation exposure, such as that which occurred at Three Mile Island nuclear accident. My father resigned a year or so after the accident occurred and continued to speak and write publicly and critically of the country’s preparedness for nuclear accidents.

In the intervening years in Pittsburgh, my father continued to teach about Health Maintenance Organizations, and the U.S. health care system at the University of Pittsburgh, and also taught medicine (grand rounds) for years. My father also continued to speak internationally about health systems and nuclear preparedness issues. And my parents traveled a number of times around the world on Semester at Sea related voyages, once as the academic dean (1999); they also traveled on Semester at Sea in the summer of 2001 around Europe. They continued to travel to other places around the world in the 1990s and 2000s with a group of friends from Pittsburgh, as well.

In the last few years of my father’s life, my parents continued to participate actively in a Unitarian Universalist-related book group. And while very independently minded vis-à-vis religion, especially those religions in sociocultural fabric around him - he was very areligious {he was a nonbeliever} for a number of reasons - my father identified loosely with the open-mindedness, tolerance and freethinking of Unitarian Universalism.

My father, a wit, a word smith, a maverick with a keen political sense, an indomitable fighter, and a punner, with a very quick mind and a sharp, good memory - someone who exercised his mind, almost without thinking about it, like some people exercise their bodies - sustained a subdural hematoma, a head injury from a concussion, during a Semester at Sea alumni voyage in Belize on December 30, 2004. Over the following 3 years, he faced a number of health challenges that are a consequence of this.

In the last 6 months of his life, he started to practice a little yoga relaxation & movement with me - with enjoyment and benefit. We both enjoyed it when he elicited In about the last 5 years of his life, he also reversed his heart disease through life-style changes, with a very low-fat, nutritionally sensible, fruits, grains & vegetables' diet, and exercise, - his angina, or heart pain, disappeared.

My father was wonderful. He was an optimist and an idealist, with a twinkle in his eye, a smile on his face, and an engaged, articulated, intelligent comment about almost every life situation - and, in my experience, an ability to instantiate ideas, - to realize what he envisioned in sometimes complex ways. He also thought about things alternatively; in a way his information technology (his brain) was quite countercultural, - he saw things differently. (He asked the question 'why? a lot, as long as I knew him, and came to his own conclusions about life through this). He could also be very precise with language, very funny, was perseverant or persistent, proud, especially of his accomplishments, principled, and he aspired to excellence. {At his memorial service in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on December 1, 2007, I almost read Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into that Dying Night," as it reflected an aspect of his character}.

My mother, a remarkable caregiver, with a creative spirit, weathered my father’s challenges in recent years, and helped him in remarkable ways.

My parents in their marriage, and my father with his interesting mind, have created a remarkable world for themselves, Sandy and myself. Although I’m very sad my father has passed away, I find some solace in the perspective that he is an unbroken link in a chain of life that extends back some 3.5 billion years, and that the challenges that he faced in recent years are in the past.

~ Scott MacLeod (

Thanks to the following friends who spoke and played music:

Jim Todd
Abby Williams (wife of Ken Williams, MD)
Richard Robb, MD
Reed Hinrichs
Alastair Craig, MD
Smoke Twichell
Nicholas Porter
Seymour DiMare, MD, and Judith Archer, harmonica and voice
Ned Prevost
Lucy Robb, piano
Cuttyhunk Cruisers, singing group

Sandy MacLeod produced a beautiful stone and sundial for our father's grave. The gravestone is inscribed in Latin with "Non Sine Lumine" ~ {"Not Without Light"}.

I also played my bagpipe before the memorial service in the Church, at the Cuttyhunk cemetery, and from the cemetery to in front of the Cuttyhunk Fishing Club.

Here's a video of Gordon MacLeod's memorial service:

There’s a Wikipedia Encyclopedia entry here ( about my father.

Here is the Memorial Service announcement we posted in the Cuttyhunk Post Office:

Memorial Service


Gordon K. MacLeod
Saturday, August 2, 2008, 1:00 PM

(at the Church, followed by a brief visit to the
Cemetery and light refreshments at the Fishing Club)

All Are Welcome

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