‘Happy Chuckle’ – – Tears to My Eyes


When emotions get in the way of getting things done, sometimes you just have to let the work go. On Tuesday a copy of my father’s obituary, printed in the University of Maryland Medical School alumni magazine exactly 40 years ago, landed in my email box. I could think about nothing else all day.

How it happened: My daughter, Susannah Fox, spoke on Tuesday at the University of Maryland Health Sciences and Human Services Library on Embracing M Health: Mobilizing Healthcare, a main focus for her at the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Susannah’s grandfather, my father, Frank Henry John Figge, died when she was three, but he looms large in family memories. He taught at the medical school for 44 years, and my mother, Rosalie Yerkes Figge, worked alongside him, helping in his research, all that time.  As a prelude to her talk, Susannah ad-libbed a tribute to them, and the librarian — being a librarian — thoughtfully responded by ferreting out the obituary record to give her.

In these excerpts, the bolded phrases mark characteristics I knew about but had not seen put into words. I am sure I read these kind words when they were printed, but I had not looked at them for 40 years. Hence, the tears.

. . .Dr. Figge was a close associate of another famous
Maryland anatomist, Dr. Eduard Uhlenhuth,  with a relationship of almost father and son.  While both were excellent anatomists and master  teachers, their methods and approaches were far distant, with Figge becoming a “friend” and confidante to many of his students, particularly the top ones and the ones in trouble. He directed the studies of a number of graduate students in anatomy and other subjects, many of whom will be leading teachers in their time. His relationship to the students was close, warm and  concerned. This was apparent in personal teaching, interviews, advisory sessions and private conversations….

. . .On the occasion of the passing of Dr. Figge it is no exaggeration to state that the University of Maryland, its faculty, students and friends have suffered a great loss. Comment has been made on the uniqueness of this great man. His eternal youthful appearance even with the passing years was a source of wonder. One can still see the genuine smile and hear the happy chuckle that characterized his greetings. His philosophy of relationship with others of all walks of life was that of the truly concerned and friendly Christian which smoothed over many situations which could have otherwise been very difficult. His scientific foresight and scanning of the horizon marked him as a true research brain and helped him lead the budding university of his youth into investigative fields. His influence and personal touch will be sorely missed at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine and in his many other interests and walks of life by a multitude who are privileged to be called his friends.

Today, October 25, is the day he died 40 years ago, but it is also a day of rejoicing, because seven years ago today my eighth and last grandchild was born.

What does all this mean? Now I know that words of tribute are even more important than I’d realized. We lost a good friend recently, and it is tempting to just send a sympathy card to his teenage children and go on with the day. Now I know that’s not enough. Someone took the time to capture my father’s spirit in words that enliven my memory 40 years later. I need to do the same for their father.

P.S., If you wrote this, or know who wrote it, please tell me!

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