Friday, July 20, 2012

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

One hardly ever gives a thought to commonly used phrases, salutations and the like. We say good morning when we meet friends in the morning, good night in the evening, goodbye when friends part. I said all of those greetings or whatever one calls them, yet I have never once stopped and thought about what these words conveyed, not to the listener, to the one who uttered them, that is, not until today. Today, I felt the need to say goodbye. I need to tell goodbye to a friend, a friend whom I have lost, but I could not say it, and even if I could, what such a word would convey. On an early morning, I found a message on my cell phone informing me that Dr. William Blake had passed away, not that day, or the day before, but several days ago. I had made a call to Dr. Blake only a few days before asking about his health and set up a time for a visit. You see, I had plans to visit him on the first week of July. When I called and received his voice on the answering machine I thought it was strange, and when I did not receive a return call I thought that something was amiss. I knew Dr. Blake was quite ill, but I had never thought that he would not be there; that he would not defy fate. When I saw him last, few weeks earlier, I had “jokingly” told him: “Dr. Blake, you cannot go before I do”. The echo of that message rings in my heart. It said, “Dr. Blake passed away on May 30th; you know he was quite ill”. Yes, I did know. Dr. Blake, to all of those thousands of patients who have known him, not only was he a great physician and a caring person: for me he was also a great scholar. Dr. Blake was my Physician for over 30 years. I owe him not only my gratitude for his care, but also for the quality of life he has imparted on me. Thirty years ago, he taught me how to listen, a task that is difficult for someone like me—a graduate school professor whose students hang on every word I say. Graduate students, as great as they are, look up to the teacher for enlightenment, and guidance, the teacher is like a preacher, the word the teacher utters is the gospel of the discipline. To them I was the preacher. I talked economics with Dr. Blake. Over 30 years, he not only attended to my medical care needs, but also enlightened me about the way people perceive economists and about what we the economists, had to say. More than thirty years ago, as a professor of economics at Clark University and Director of the Institute for Economics Studies, I had put in place a program called “Conversation With”, where speakers from academia, businesses and governments, especially those in public policy were invited to engage in a dialogue with members of the community. Issues ranging from health care to tax reform and the debt ceiling were aired out; dialogues across the various constituents took place. For ten years the program was in full swing, meeting once a month. Dr. Blake attended almost all such meetings, he has shown acumen in his grasp of economic jargons, and theories, offered us a point of view that needed to be heard and for me personally an appreciation of what others, the non-professional economists have to say. Two years ago, Dr. Blake retired from his practice of medicine due to illness, but thankfully knowing my peculiar reactions to certain foods and medicine, he kindly kept me under his radar screen, offering guidance and suggestions about what course of treatment I should pursue. During these two years I talked with Dr. Blake not only about medical issues but most importantly about economic ones: we talked about the 2008 financial crises, the health care bill: the so called Obama Care, the Euro zone crises, the downgrading of government bonds, the fiasco over the debt ceiling as well as other issues. Indeed, I did post some economic blogs inspired by our conversations. Talking with Dr. Blake made me feel at home, for I too have retired from my professorial duties at Clark University. But a teacher and an author have home only in his work. I began to work on a volume tracing “our discipline’s roots”; a volume showcasing the principles of economics put forth by our forefathers. During one of my visits, Dr. Blake asked me about what my latest venture: “a book about principles of economics”, I said. He asked: “What do you call the book?”, and I put before him the title and what I hoped to accomplish: “What Economists Do: A Journey through History of Economic Thought: from the Wealth of Nations to the Calculus of Consent”. “Well”, he said, “it is time someone put in ink what you fellow actually do”. He was kind enough to offer to read the chapters as I wrote them, offered his editorial talent as well as provide comments on what I had put down. Dr. Blake read, edited and took issue with my presentation especially the use of economic jargon and kept me going in earnest to finish the volume. Even when I felt ill, I had to pull myself up for he was there waiting for my next installment, encouraging me to get to the last chapter—chapter 7—where I put down my thoughts as to what economists do. I was distracted from completing this chapter, as I had a more urgent task to attend to, so instead of finishing the writing of chapter 7 by mid-May, I put it off until the end of June. I mentioned to Dr. Blake that he shall have it the first week of July, and I did. I mailed the chapter, but then I had no response. I have taught Economics for some forty years, written several books and articles, but this volume had a special meaning for me. Talking about the foundations of my discipline with Dr. Blake made me aware of a human side to economics I have seldom seen. My highest reward was in seeing Dr. Blake shake his head in recognition of my efforts in spreading the gospel of my chosen m├ętier. My one regret is that Dr. Blake was not there to read what I have put down as to “What Economists Do”. Nonetheless, I know in my heart that he would have liked what I had to say. Dr. Blake, you shall be missed: that I can say, as I know what is to be missed. But to say “good bye”! Merriam Webster Dictionary (p. 527) defines the term goodbye as: “God be with you “, a concluding remark or gesture at parting. So I will say: Goodbye My Friend. Maybe someday, I shall know. Attiat F. Ott Emeritus professor: Clark University, Worcester Massachusetts. President: The Institute for Economic policy Studies, Worcester, Massachusetts.