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Volume 2, Issue 2
Summer 2006:

Ernest Grable: Leaving a Legacy

Elaine Adler

Cell 2 Soul. 2006 Summer; 2(2):a19

Ernest Grable
Ernest Grable, MD

Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord?
And who stall stand in His holy place?
He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.
                                        Psalms 24:3

The first entry posted in the guest comment page for his online obituary read, "The halls of Newton Wellesley Hospital are silent today." It was an apt response to the huge void Ernest Grable, surgeon and teacher extraordinaire, leaves behind.

Ernie was a force — a kind and gentle one, with a twinkle in his eye. His aura extended well beyond the limits of his physical being. He exuded confidence and stability, good humor and cheer, passion and caring, love and respect. His joy of life was evident in all he did, whether work or play, whether in the operating room, on the dance floor, or on his beloved boat with family and friends.

Ernie Grable and his wife dancing to YYYY-M-C-A at a Newton Wellesley Hospital celebration, 2004.

Ernie was "my artist," one of the rare doctors in whom I placed my full trust. After "the butcher" left me with a long and unsightly scar, having sloppily removed considerably more tissue than necessary for a benign breast lump, I was thrilled to find Ernie. His incisions for three more lumps over the next ten years are virtually invisible. Though I saw him only occasionally, he was an important and constant being in my life for three decades, and he welcomed me as if I were an old friend every time I entered his office. When I felt something suspicious about a year ago, he generously agreed to see me at the end of a long and busy day, just before rushing off to a meeting. His smile and greeting were typical Ernie: "Great to see you. You look terrific. Now get in the room and take off your top."

If the receptionists in a physician's office reflect the type of man for whom they work, Ernie clearly set a tone for an open, caring, and loving retreat for his staff and patients alike. Whenever his name came up among doctors or nurses I met, there was frequently someone who said they had studied under him at Tufts. Their words unanimously alluded to his being a taskmaster, demanding excellence. He both terrified his students and gained their trust, love, and respect. He called his mentoring "Grableizing" them.

Despite his growing weakness as his body succumbed to cancer, Ernie continued to teach. Just a few weeks before his passing, he presented grand rounds on what it was like to be a patient, wanting his colleagues to know about the "other side."

Ernie's funeral was packed with physicians, nurses, hospital staff, and patients. Sitting next to me was an OR nurse who couldn't imagine the operating arena without his presence. When his coffin was wheeled into the sanctuary, a gasp involuntarily escaped my lips as I fought to imagine this larger-than-life ebullient man confined in that small box.

Speakers praised Ernie's passion for his work, his caring for his patients, his love for his wife, his pride in his children, how he was most free and joyous when sailing on his boat. Most poignant were the words of his children, both now physicians, who spoke to their father, the man. His son acknowledged the role model his father had been for him, and his gratefulness for the loving mutual connection his own son had with his grandfather.

Ernie's daughter revealed what it was like to be a resident in her father's hospital, and how patients who recognized her name were more eager to talk about her father than about their own condition. She holds in her memory the proud look on her father's face when she took over the tiller on their last sail together, and his praise in acknowledging her ability.

She spoke of how overwhelming and humbling it was for her dad to receive so many adoring letters from patients and colleagues who learned of his illness. He understood that he was being granted the rare privilege of seeing words of praise usually reserved for a funeral, when it is too late to hear them. All the letters and other written comments are now gathered in a scrap book, a lasting memory to be shared with his grandchildren, that they may know the revered man their grandfather was.

Ernie Grable lived a good and honorable life. He stands upon the mountain, and his legacy remains in all he touched.


From Carol Martinez Weber, M.D.

Your article was my first news of Dr. Grable's illness and death. I studied under him as a medical student and have thought of him many times over the past 25 years. He made quite an impression during the time that we had together. Thank you for writing about him.

Dr. Grable embodied the powerful combination of excellence in his diagnostic and surgical skills and a genuine desire to help relieve the physical and psychic suffering of others. While many other attending physicians focused only on our intellectual and performance skills, Dr. Grable also emphasized the importance of remembering our humanity.

This meant not only treating our patients and colleagues with kindness and respect, but also making time for friends and family. He wanted us to meet his family and recognize that a good physician can and should have a rich personal life. I particularly recall his inviting students to his home at the finish of our surgical rotation under his tutelage.

His teaching and spirit continue to influence those who learned under his wing.

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