Archive for January, 2010

A Gem Among Stones

Monday, January 25th, 2010

This community has lost a gem. I knew John Grigsby as a child. His eldest daughter, Mary Lou, and I grew up together in the First Presbyterian Church. We’ve been lifelong friends, and our memories mesh in a familiar patchwork of small town life in the Indiana of the 1950s.

Our parents worked in the church, and both John and Louise were very active with Westminster Fellowship (the youth group of that era). Later, as an adult, I had a friendship with the man I had always known as “Mr. Grigsby” that outstripped anything I had ever imagined.

You see, we belonged to a small coffee group known as “The Round Table”
— so-named for the location of our table in what was then the downtown Chicken Inn. Martin Zinser played host to us every morning and our numbers ranged from five to more than eleven.

Our compliment included businessmen like John, attorneys, insurance men, a barber, a fireman, a minister or two, a golf pro, and a traveling salesman. If I’ve omitted a category, forgive me. The group disbanded with the closure of the downtown restaurant, and although members have gathered in other places over the last few years, it just hasn’t been the same.

Crowded around that table in good weather or foul, good times or bad, we tackled topics that ranged from basketball and football to the politics of the day. Now, politics have a way of changing, but problems seem to endure — either ones of too much spending or too little. If someone had a health problem, everyone tried valiantly to put a bright face on it.

Over the years, we’ve lost a lot of people. There are likely less than six of the original members now. John came whenever he could, although at the group’s zenith, he was busy with Culligan and Grigsby Realty. He had a zest for life. He was a man of faith. I had seen that all my life, but perhaps never so much as I watched him care for his wife after a debilitating stroke. She never lacked for care or love, and he kept her at home. Today, many people don’t do that. John did.

Looking back, I realize that I didn’t take the time to appreciate the qualities of my parents’ generation. They were — and in some cases today — are different. A few of my classmates still enjoy the pleasure of a parent’s company. I can never walk into the First Presbyterian Church without closing my eyes as I sit in the pew and seeing the faces of all the people who helped guide me to adulthood.

As today’s children are driven to this event or that, I grieve that more are not driven to church activities. Oh, there are families who involve their children in religion, but I think the numbers are fewer these days than in the past.

If you are as fortunate as I am, perhaps you will forge a friendship with the parent of a friend. If you are really lucky, it will be a person of the high moral character and ethics of a John Grigsby. Whenever I glimpse a picture of a golfer kneeling to assess that last putt on the green, I will smile and think of a similar photo in the Grigsby home. John is studying his putt and his wife and girls are looking on with pride — just before he brought home the Elks Blue River Golf Course Championship.

If there’s golf in heaven, they’ve gained a grand player. Good-bye, John. Many of us will miss you. You were a gem among stones.

Not just me? Wow!

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

There’s only one scenario that tops sitting comfortably in the privacy of your own home to be insulted or disgusted by drug ads on TV and that’s being bombarded by them in someone else’s home — or worse yet — in a public place on a “big screen”.
I have been disturbed by the specter of big pharmaceutical ads on television for some time. I must admit that the advent of Cialis and Viagra only exacerbated an already-existing bias; but, all that aside, haven’t we had enough of this?
Not only do these ads account for billions of dollars that could be better spent in research and development, but they also seed a really bad habit. There are those who, despite being fairly well, desire attention from the medical community. TV ads that describe conditions in great detail can inspire those with little medical knowledge to cite symptoms chapter and verse at the next doctor’s appointment. Oops! Dare I suggest corporate-influenced hypochondria?
After going to professional sources, I am relieved to learn that I am not alone in my opinions. Many who know the pharmaceutical business inside and out feel much the same way.
An article printed in 2008 cited that a study by two York University researchers estimated that the U.S. pharmaceutical industry spends almost twice as much on promotion as it does on research and development, contrary to the industry’s claim.
The researchers’ estimate is based on the systematic collection of data directly from the industry and doctors during 2004, which shows the U.S. pharmaceutical industry spent 24.4% of the sales dollar on promotion, versus 13.4% for research and development, as a percentage of US domestic sales of US$235.4 billion.
The research is co-authored by PhD candidate Marc-André Gagnon, who led the study with Joel Lexchin, a long-time researcher of pharmaceutical promotion, Toronto physician, and Associate Chair of York’s School of Health Policy & Management in the Faculty of Health.
It is hard to imagine the man-hours lost to drug representative visits in doctors’ offices nationwide. You’ve glimpsed them. Slickly coifed and impeccably clad, they saunter in with trays of food or wrapped gifts — as you and the other patients wait for the doctor. Many doctors, disgusted with the interruptions, have banned all such visits during office hours.
Add to this dilemma the angst of listening to the long list of adverse affects from the advertised drugs and you can see how far this has gone over the past few years. My favorite is an oft-aired side effects question. “If you have experienced any of these (problems with a drug), stop taking the medication and contact your doctor immediately.” Of course, that warning followed a list that included death. Now, if someone has experienced death and obeys this instruction, I want to be there to see that encounter!
And the future….? Well, who knows at this point? As for me, I wish the large pharmaceutical companies would leave diagnostics to the doctors and channel their dollars marked for advertising toward a powerful combination of both lowering drug prices and advancing research and development. I’m tired of all of it. How about you?

A Hoosier Legacy

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

13 – Hoosier legacy

When I learned that Ruth Lilly had died in late December, my mind drifted back to stories from my mother who grew up in Madison, Indiana. There, in the wake of the Great Depression, she and my grandmother were left destitute after my grandfather died at the age of 35. The farm payments made to their insurance agent had been pocketed and not forwarded to the mortgage company. Alas, fraud and theft are not new in American society.

Miss Drusilla Cravens was the granddaughter of J.F.D. Lanier, who, with the help of famous architect Francis Costigan, built the magnificent Lanier Mansion in 1844. Lanier finally relinquished title to the Madison property and deeded it to his oldest son, Alexander, in 1861. Moving to New York City, he maintained close ties to his former home state. As an interesting side note, you should know that during the Civil War, Lanier made unsecured loans totaling over $1 million, first to enable Governor Oliver P. Morton to outfit troops, then to enable the state to keep up interest payments on its debt. By 1870, these loans were repaid with interest. Lanier died in 1881.

Getting back to Miss Cravens, she learned of my mother and grandmother’s situation and took them into her home, where they lived until my mother graduated from Madison High School with The Class of 1935. While living with Miss Cravens, my mother was exposed to a wide variety of impressive visitors. Among these was Josiah K. Lilly, Jr., who would have been about 45 years of age when mother was a senior in high school.

Mr. Lilly brought my mother a lovely beaded necklace from one of his European trips. A delicate piece, it reposes in the safe haven of a vault. I can’t bear to think of losing it. I treasure it as a relic from that golden time when movers and shakers who would build a pharmaceutical giant were simply known as hard working entrepreneurs — men borne of a family from Greencastle.

Most of us have grown up with Eli Lilly as a familiar part of our lives, since many local people have worked for the pharmaceutical company over its many years. Stories abound about Ruth Lilly, and I find it intriguing that her own family’s company produced a drug that gave her some respite from a dogging depression with which she had struggled for years.

Her passion for poetry is well known. As a novice poet myself, I appreciate her efforts on behalf of American poets at large. This coming Monday, Indiana will inter a woman of considerable influence and generosity. Crown Hill Cemetery is a fitting last resting place for this gentle woman. Its beauty and symmetry equal that of a great poem and its history is replete with legends and lore common to such a large cemetery.

As for me, I will think of Ruth Lilly on Monday, and later on I will pick up that old necklace and muse about a man who took the time to bring a fatherless, seventeen-year-old girl something precious from a faraway land…. a man whose family impacted— and continues to impact — the lives of countless Hoosiers. Indiana is, in large measure, a better state for the work of the Lilly family. I wish them continued success.

The Emperor’s New Clothes – 2010 Edition

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

The other day, as I say musing over the past year’s events, I was reminded of an old children’s story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. You probably recall it. The story line was that a costumer came to a ruler claiming to have the most beautiful fabric in the world, but only a royal person could see it. Not wishing to admit that he might be less than royal, the emperor agreed to have a new robe made from the fabric.

When word spread that the Emperor would appear in a parade wearing the new outfit, crowds of subjects lined the thoroughfare. The people, unwilling to disappoint the emperor made glowing comments about his clothes as he passed. Then small child piped up, and the “jig was up”, so to speak. A tiny voice called out that the Emperor was not wearing any clothes.

We are faced with a similar situation today. All manner of legislation is coming out way disguised in invisible fabric. If we peel back the impressive rhetoric, these initiatives — like that culpable ruler — are not a pretty sight.

I yearn for a time when both print and broadcast journalists live up to their names. The very profession that not only extols, but exists by, freedom of speech lays waste to it daily. Any dissenting voice is either ignored or impugned. Any facts that fail to fit into what the mainstream consider the “truth” is discredited and those who present it called names.

I learned as a child that fine minds discuss ideas and weak minds call names. I am sick and tired of politicians constantly calling their opponents names. When an issue cannot be supported by facts, it is worthless. I am beginning to think that the majority party not only heralds such personalities, but also cultivates them.

It’s time to put a stop to this insanity. Start today and look for candidates who vow to vote on behalf on their constituents and not claim to know “what’s best for them”. Refresh the mix. Keep up the pressure on our legislators to work for us, not in spite of us. We deserve better. Think about it. Let 2010 be a real “10” for the American people. Push the Congress to knuckle down and quit spending our money. We can weather any financial storm without the government’s help.

Remember, the government doesn’t make money — it takes money.