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Russell L. Cecil 1881-1965 in memorium

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In Memorium
WEAK, as a sad and solemn tribute to a true friend of us all, not to say
how much h e was like other men, but to say in how very many ways he
was different.
Thc influence for good or bad that each of us exerts in life is usually
ericloscd by a fairly small circle and within it we give pieces of ourselves
to those around us.
Big pieces to those close to 11s in a personal sense, and smaller pieces of
whatever size is needed, to those with whom we work.
And if we push that circle out too far, we run grave risk that all the
pieces end up so minute that they are valueless to anyone.
But such was not the case with Russell Cecil.
Without skimping on the pieces for his family and his intimate associates,
h e nonetheless succeeded in giving real pieces to so very many more. So very
many more were both those he knew and the literally hundreds of thousands
he benefitted whom he never saw.
What his intimate associates felt of his influence shines through in the
warm and always different anecdotes they constantly recite about him. Anecdotes of those days after World War I when he was the central figure of
that small group of young doctors, all destined for great distinction, who lived
together in a bachelor mknage on Sixty-Second Street.
But this wonderful capacity of one human being to support and to delight
Eulogy for Dr. Russell L. Cecil cleliuered at AlaclisoiL Preshyteriun Chwch, June 4, 1965,
by Walsh McDermott, M.U., Cornell University Medical College.
another, which Russ Cecil owned in such large measure, was not something
only of his youth; he kept it at a high pitch his whole life.
And he h a d it eve11 in those small affairs of daily life which most of us
treat as almost mechanical transactions.
M/’hene\Yer he would call me on the telephone, he would call out my given
name, with that explosive rising inflecticn of his, and make me feel, in the
traction of a second, that a whole new world of exciting adventures was just
about to open up before me.
The message itself might be of the most mundane sort, but it was that way
he had, of throwing that first life-line to the other human being, that would
glow after, in one’s heart.
And with this extraordinary ability to throw the life-line to the other person,
went an equally extraordinary perceptivity of other persons.
In the professional sphere, in my whole experience, Russ Cecil was absolutely without equal in his ability to judge the worth of other men. He saw
his fellow physicians with very clear eyes. Yet without altering the picture as
he saw it, he would always surround his judgments with a frame of compassion and a certain amused tolerance of human frailty.
Indeed, the faintly comical antics of most human beings including himself,
were a source of constant delight to him, and he loved to describe them with
that salty humor we knew so well.
This urbane and witty man we knew as a cosmopolitan was the product
of the post-bellum South yet he always refused to be a traditionalist.
He was a modern man when he graduated from Princeton more than sixty
years ago, and he stayed modern all the way.
But every now and then he would reveal “the persistence of the past,” in
some of the old-fashioned values he cherished.
In book publishing, whenever a new edition of a work is brought out, it is
necessary to destroy-quite
literally to chop up-the
remaining copies of
the old one.
Whenever Russ would think of this happening to his book, he would be
filled all over again with a sense of outrage.
Not outrage because it was his book but outrage that any book could be
subjected to such vandalism. For deep within him was that old attitude derived
from our frontier days that a book-any
book-as a product of man’s intellectual creativity was something very precious and not a thing to be destroyed
by any man or group of men.
And it was in that same spirit of respect for creativity that he made himself
a Greek classicist, a poet, and an artist.
If his scientific and professional life had been limited to his accomplishmerlts
in the laboratory and at the bedside, he would have had a most distinguished
career but, as we all know, it turned out to be something far more than that.
For, forty years ago he had an original idea that without question made
him the best known American physician in the world; and known for something of the intellect.
He reasoned that if the expertise of our country’s finest physicians could
he properly fused into one book, an instrument would be created that could
be put into the hands of physicians everywhere to help them in their task.
H e made ‘a success of this idea-a success far greater than he had dreamed.
Today his book, and the later ones like it, have been institutionalized and
hcmce no longer represent that personalized form of creativity that was his.
But forty years ago it was an act of personal creativity to identify who
r:ould do things best; to get them to do it; and to fuse the pieces into the whole.
And his uncanny ability to note the strengths in others, stood him in very
good stead in this work.
This act of creativity had an immense eifect in helping to turn medical
students into better physicians, and they are deeply grateful, as can be seen
by the whole flood of letters to Eileen from physicians young and old on the
announcement of his death.
But his creativity had a n even wider impact for, all over the world in
innumerable single crucial incidents, what he did enabled some physician to
be guided to the correct action for the benefit of a sick patient.
Thus forty years ago, R ~ s s e l lCecil forged one of the most important of our
instruments whereby we cculd follow that sacred principle of our JudaoChristian culture-that
the creativity of all men should be used for the
individual-for the good of the one man who needs it.
These are some of the ways in which Russ Cecil was diiferent and in their
many facets they tell us the meaning of the man.
He gave the delight of living to those he knew and he helped to give the
chance to continue to live to the many he never knew.
W e mourn his death today; we feel a great loss; and we extend our fullest
sympathy to Eileen, to the young Russell Cecils, to the grandchildren, and to
the extended family.
But even today, in the midst of our sadness and our loss, we also know
that having had our own lives be influenced by Russell Cecil, is an immense
and an enduring gain.
As one of his old friends put it yesterday, in a message to Eileen:
“What a triumphant life!”
And from the N e a York Times, June 2, 1965:
Pioneer in Rheumatic 1% Is Dead-Won A.M.A. Award
Dr. Russell LaFayette Cecil, a pioneering
physician in the field of rheumatic diseabes
and a medical consultant to the Arthritis
Foundation, died last night at his home,
950 Filth Avenue. Dr. Cecil, who had fecently undergone surgery at New York
Hospital for a brain tumor, was 83 years
A former president of
Rheumatism Association, he was a recipient
in 1962, of one of medicine’s highest honors, the Distinguished Service Award of
the American Medical Association.
More than 40 years ago, Dr. Cecil became
pronihent as the author and editor of
‘Textbook of Medicine,” which is now going
into its 12th edition. The book has received
worldwide acclaim and is a standard volume
in nearly every medical school in the
United States.
Dr. Cecil was considered this country’s
leading authority on rheumatic disease, and
his contributions to clinical practice, teaching and research and as a medical writer
had won for him high esteem in his profession.
The physician, a native of Nicolasville,
Ky., received a bachelor of arts degree
cum laude from Princeton University in 1902
and his M.D. from the Medical College of
Virginia four years later.
llr. Cecil continued his studies in Berlin
and Vienna and then at the Johns Hopkins
Hospital in Baltimore as a “voluntary assistant.” He worked all day in the wards and
spent his evenings in research. After a year
he was invited to Columbia University and
was appointed as resident pathologist at
Presbyterian Hospital. In 1915 he joined
the faculty of the Cornell h1edical College.
In World War I, he was named to head
the Surgeon General’s Commission to Study
Pneumonia. His work on “Studies in Experimental Pneumonia,” a monograph written in 1920 in collaboration with Dr. Francis
Blakes of Yale, is considered a classic. Later
he returned to an earlier interest in arthritis
and in 1922 established at Cornell one of
the first arthritis clinics in the United States.
Dr. Cecil was a founder of the American
Rheumatism Association and served as its
president in 193738. He was also the first
president of the New York Rheumatism
Association when it was established in 1943.
After serving as first chairman of the
medical and Lcientific committee of the
Arthritis and Rheumatism Foundation, now
The Arthritis Foundation. Dr. Cecil joined
the staff of the foundation as medical director in 1954. Since 1958 he had been consulting medical director.
He leaves his wife, the former Eileen
Cumming; a son, Russell C. Cecil, and three
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1881, cecil, 1965, memorius, russell
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