When I was cleaning out his effects after his death, I came across his childhoold marbles (he had never lost them) in a beautiful chamois drawstring sack. 
I now have them and this childhood portrait in a shadow box

My Father, Dr. William Wynant Dean

3/17/1914, 10 PM - 1/23/1999 2AM   Dr. Walter Dean Levi & Greta Wynant

There was a man


My paternal great-great grandfather, Abraham Levi, emigrated from Bavaria to New Orleans in the late 1800's and ended up running a large and prosperous mercantile store in Northern Indiana.  His son in my line became a homeopathic doctor in New Albany, IN, and his son, my grandfather Walter, learned Eye,Ear,Nose & Throat in Vienna in the early 1900s.  In 1918 he changed his name from Levi to Dean; his family had never been observant and there was a lot of anti-German sentiment then.  He had the finest education of his time, but he couldn't save his younger son Walter Jr. from a long, painful lingering bone infection.  A course of antibiotics would have cleared it up in a week: he took months to die.  That was medicine before the wonder drugs

My father was born in Lousiville, KY (and I, in turn, grew up a half a block from where he had grown up). He went to college in Hampton-Sydney (prince Edward County, VA) and loathed the narrow-minded bigotry there.  He finished his undergrad at Indiana Bloomington and then did a year of post grad at Stanford.  He then traveled around the East coast by train seeing the medical schools....in those days, if you had the tuition and anything like academic credits (and were a man), you could get into medical school.  Nothing like it is now.  On the other hand, medicine was not the safe, predictably successful (monetarily and in terms of patient treatment outcome) thing that it soon became: it was then a modestly well-compensated, immensely respected calling on the front line of a war with death, dread diseaes & mortality.  So with a relatively indifferent academic record, he made the choice of Yale Med, where he met my mother, a Smith graduate from northwestern PA attending Yale nursing. He loved Yale Med; it was one of the seminal, formative educational experiences of his life: he would talk about how collegial it had been with the students peers of the faculty.  While he was in med school, sulfa, the first of the wonder drugs came along; before then doctor had to use bacteriostatic measures and cultured antibodies (if the patient lived long enough), all of which was of limited efficacy.  My father always told me that doctors don't (and he would assert that even now) cure people, all they can do is try to help the body itself fight off disease and heal.


WWII then fell like a hammer on everyone's dreams and plans.  After his graduation, he went into an Army Medical Corp Evacuation Hospital (behind the lines, the backup to the MASH equivalent) made up of Yale Med professors, recent graduates and ditto from Yale Nursing; it served in the African and Italian campaigns.  My mother stayed behind, gestating my older brother Bill...and never graduated Yale Nursing.  When M*A*S*H the movie came out, my brother and I took him to see it; he came out, shaking his head, saying, 'That's just how it was, if anything it was crazier'.  He had some stories...For the first while, the unit, composed of smart, self-starting, intensely responsible people, ran itself (just fine, thank you very much).  In the fulness of time and the wisdom of military organizations, the Army coughed up a red neck Regular Army type to command the unit.  Who, of course, found it necessary to assert his command authority...by ordering that everyone (except him) should arise at 7AM and do calestentics, to be fit. Having been up until the wee hours the night before sewing up and saving (and not saving) the troops, this went over poorly...but an order is an order.  So.  There was the massed personnel of the unit, on the beach at Anzio with the occasion 88 shell still coming their way, lined up and doing....finger pushups, with the appropriate grunts.  This went on for about a month, until the unfortunate day when the commander actually got up, instead of listening to the grunts, smiling and rolling back to sleep.  All hell broke loose for this insubordination, and life was truly miserable...until the poor commanding SOB developed painful and chronic benign prostasitis...for which there was then really no cure, only the palliative measure of....a finger wave.  Being a redneck, he was tterminally mortified, so, for the rest of the war, he hid in his tent and let the unit run itself, which it did just fine, thank you very much. Dad had considerable distrust of tthe military, and fully supported me in my application for C.O. status when the Vietnam draft hit.

Even in the middle of the war, he was a Rennaissance man, who wandered the bazaars of Africa and Italy and learned the artisans' ancient crafts.  He designed and had cast in gold earrings for his wife, did watercolors, painted a kids book about a discarded alarm clock that joined the circus, had it bound in embossed leather and sent it home to Bill, inscribed, 'To my son, in the hope that I may someday read it to him.'

 I came along after the war in mid '47, and my mother had polio a year later.  Here we were taking the sune on the roof of the carriage house in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, where my father trained in eye surgery at Penn under the world-renowned Francis Adler.

Courage is grace under pressure

It's easy to just see the towering example of my mother living an engaged, contributing, fiercely alive and loving spirited life while trapped in a flaccid body.  It kind of puts my father in the shade, but God, He Was There.

Faithful, fiercely loving his wife, thinking of how to make her life easier (he designed and had built an electrical adjusting queen bed like a hospital bed, in the '50's), trimmin his life so that he was always there.  And he was, as if one foot was nailed to the floor.  It was the days before ADA and we hardly ever went out.  I'd be surprised if they saw more than 10 movies.  But we did things as home, as a family. He was under enormous pressure and frustration, but he rarely snapped.  The motto invisible over the entrance of our house was (from Hemingway), Courage is grace under pressure.  There was no quiet desperation, rather a fierce, even joyous engagement.

Medicine became, towards the end of his career, a business of spread sheets and bean counters telling doctors how to practice.  My father barely managed to escape that: for him, it was an art and a calling in which he served.  As I recall it, no one was turned away or beggared....much less charged all the market would bear.  Memorably, a dirt farmer's wife turned up with a chronic eye condition that would have beggared them....so my father, ever a man of vision and decency, huddled with the guy and set up a trade that my brother and I, still under ten at that point, would come out for a day at the farm...and we got to pick up the new born lambs (and have them shit on us), play hide and seek in the hayloft, get fresh eggs out of the hen house and such...it was *wonderful*....and the farmer kept his pride. My father regualrly sent patients needing glasses to the five and dime when the prescription had no astigmatism.  And he indexed his fees on the price of Liederkranz cheese....as it had cost in med school and at the then current time. And he did a *lot* of pro bono work.  His reward was an immense respect from everyone he dealt with.

My parents had meant to live in Santa Barbara, CA but with my mother  almost completely paralyzed, they had to pull in their horns and Dad, an opthalmologist, joined his father's ENT practice in Louisville, KY.  It was an interesting place; for all that it was on the northern border of a state north of the Mason-Dixon line, it was Southern in its religion (and the home of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, then somewhat progressive, though later purged of that by reactionary elements that reign there today) and politics.  And yet there was a small core of intellectual, artistic and politically progressive people that leavened the city.  Its papers, TV and radio were run by the Bingham family which had been progressive and liberals for two generations, were regularly rated in the nation's top 10 by the Columbia School of Journalism and regularly won Pulitzers.  The Lousiville Philamonic regualrly commissioned and performed new work, and Actor's Theater was in its glorious beginnings; it has since become a major husting Off-Off Broadway launching pad..  Everyone in that ferment knew everyone else; they had to, in mutual support against the indiffference and opposition of stuck-in-the-mud bigoted (and proud of it) vast majority (it should be understood that the South wasn't just "conservative", it was so reactionary that it would have happily wound the clocks back a hundreds years...I talk about it small-minded, bigoted ways here)  But we had friends, oh we had wonderful friends.  Milton Metz ran a radio talk show on WHAS...back in the days when journalism strived to even-handedly inform...and he would regularly call my Dad when he would end up with some nasty pin-headed redneck spewing hate as God's truth....Dad would then call up, posing in falsetto as Gwendolyn, a ditzy spinster, who would poke holes and fun and make a laughing stock of the last caller's bigotry and cretinism.  One of the realities of being a Wily Southern Liberal (as Molly Ivins and Ann Richards showed so well later on) is that the only way to counter that poison (because hate and small minds did then and still somewhat do rule the South and suborn its decent people) is to expose them, with wit and sarcasm for the nasty, mean ignorant SOBs they are.

It was a wonderful community of clever, committed, engaged creative people.  Molly Clowes, one of the first woman editorial page editors in the nation, was this wonderful sweet dumpy peaches and cream complexioned Brit expat, who cut her teeth exposing the evils of Eastern KY coal strip mining.  Who could take her seriously?  But she had a mind like a steel trap and blew it wide open.  Her husband, Willy Walsh, a French gentlemen who had flown in the French air force in WWI, was shot down in flames, jumped from his craft, without a parachute, and fell through a pine tree into a snow bank and walked away.  Louis Lusky who had clerked for Stone on the Supreme Court. John Ed Pierce, the parfait Southern gentleman and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who stayed with us for a while when he was going through a difficult patch in his life. And a host of more ordinary people of skill and craft.  Sam and Dotti Adams: Sam built custom specialize medical instruments and made a custom, one-off thermostatically operated vent system for my father's greenhouse to keep his camellias from overheating.  Mr. Littrel, a merry hunch-backed dwarf, who was the master machine shop mechanic par execllence who could rebuild a Bugatti engine he'd never seen before.  My parents collected witty, intellligent, clever people and held salon and had wild parties. There were real limits to what Dad and my brother and I could do to make my mother's life work, so we had black help during the day and to do odd jobs, which was the purview of Sam Thompson, a wiry personable fellow of medium heigth, who the Louisville police had gotten in the habit of tormenting...not physical abuse, but the continuing harrassment and arrest on bogus charges...which because of carefully managed technicalities he couldn't appeal.  After Sam had been arrested some 20 -30 times, my father connected him with Louis Lusky and the KCLU.  His case went straight to the Supreme Court of the United states....in the days when it cared about civil and citizen rights...and the local DA got his ass handed him.  The police never bothered Sam again.  And Dad raged at the AMA for their opposition to healthcare for all, at doctors that thought that their medical and surgical skills (Saving lives! I have god-like power) translated in omniscience and omni-competence

We were stuck in the house by my mother's paralysis, but he made it a world.  He and my brother and I constructed a lean-to green house down the side of our house, and in the winter it was a paradise of blooming camellias and orchids. We had a wildflower garden collected from tramps in the woods with jack in the pulpit, bloodroot, columbine and more, espaliered trees, a fountain.  He got antique cars, Bugattis, the Ferraris of the 20's and 30's for us to drive and tinker with and fix...and then a Maserati (no one knew what they were then, and cars my father picked up $2000 then could probably command a million today).
A renaissance man in the howling cultural wilds of  Kentucky when being such marked you as weird or even suspect.  He painted and sculpted, of no particular strength (but could hang in a gallery) and left that because it wasn't a passion.  Above all, he lived his life with glee.  Here is was at a big hand in one of his occasional poker games....played with some incredible people:



Dad is at the extreme left (he is only in partial regalia...I can recall him dressing for poker night in a cream linen suit, Panama hat...as here.. and espadrilles).  Clockwise around the table were:
My father was sharp and discriminating, but the world of ideas did not compel, and he never really an intellectual.  His passion was for artisanry of the highest caliber, for life richly and fully engaged.  He baked and cooked and wrenched and built and devised:
What sort of life could we have had, tied to the house of my mother's paralysis....the answer is, a fantastic one.
My brother and I had incredible and unusual summer opportunites.  My mother and father found incredible things to do, places to go....we vacationed (once a year, travelling with my mother, was very, very difficult):
My parents loved each other passionately: you could warm yourself just being close to them.  Molly had smoked a pipe, which she could just handle if someone lit it for here, and cancer took her, as it did her sister, no chance.  One day, Dad went to put out the dogs (his beloved full size poodles), and when he came he found my mother in a pool of blood: an artery in her throat had finally weakened and burst and she had exsanguinated in seconds.  It must have been quick.  Dad had lost his beloved Moldoll.  Bless him, he took a picture and called me.  And so the bell tolls.
He hit the sauce hard for a while, but eventually some old Philadelphia friends introduced him to Biddy, and a second love began.  Their honeymoon, Dad was 65, Biddy 55, was a British Columbia whitewater raft trip.  They had nearly 20 good years together...and Dad had a mobile partner.  They went everywhere.

Dad was, in the end, claimed by Parkinson's Disease...after it had immobilized him greatly, he developed peritonitis.  I can't believe it didn't realize what it was, but was so overcome by weariness that he just let it roll over him.

My father was a man of rare endurance, love, glee, enthusiasm and profound love of knowledge,  understanding and tools.  When under profound pressure, he could be a real S.O.B., but I always understood the load he carried with such grace.  As with my mother, I never heard him complain of the cards he'd been dealt.

Did I say I carry a torch for my parents?