A Living Legend on Optimism

I met a living legend this evening. Dr. Donald Pinkel stopped by the foundation I’m involved in at the request of his number one admirer, Frank Kalman, the foundation’s executive director. He was joined by his wife, pediatric oncologist Cathryn Howarth, MD. They are both now retired.

dr donald pinkel

Dr. Pinkel was literally the first doctor to cure childhood leukemia. He was the founding director and CEO of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee from 1962 to 1973. The hospital was nearby where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968. Dr. Pinkel was the first to racially integrate a facility of this kind in the south.

He was the first to envision and establish a completely free facility for all the children and their families admitted. This included, room, board, and transportation in addition to all medical costs. This was and still is the only free medical center of its kind in the U.S. today. These are just some of his many accomplishments.

He shared how when he was a boy, his mom took him to a priest to help address his “unruly” behavior and the priest asked him to say the St. Jude’s prayer every day. St. Jude takes care of the most desperate situations – the last resort. So when he was invited to head St. Jude’s, he knew it was meant to be.

Perhaps the most important thing he shared was how critical attitude is in overcoming even the most difficult challenges, like cancer. He sees pessimism as the enemy and one of four obstacles to overcoming cancer. He see optimism and hope as critical to success.

It’s easy to sometimes overlook the most obvious ingredients to success, especially when we’re faced with big challenges – like to our health, career, or making the world a better place. I left that room very clear on one thing: optimism is a learned practice and high art we can all access any time, under any circumstances. Why live life without it?

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