Austin

The theme for today is “of a certain age.”

I’m sitting in the Austin airport listening to Kenny Burrell on my iPhone and waiting to go home to Charlotte and catch up on a week of missed sleep. The wonderful nostalgic paintings over the ticket counters of simple Texas country life are just the right tone for my mood. It has been – dare I say it out loud – an emotional week in my professional life.

In no particular order:

There is a rash of retirements at this moment among people I have grown up admiring and learning from and who I consider mentor-friends. Jerry White, Michael Mills, Marilyn Wexler, to name just three. I know their involvement in the profession will fade rather than end abruptly but it’s still a shock to my system. They have always been there for and with me.

I gave a talk on residency training and took the occasion to acknowledge my mentors. Walter Mauderli, Larry Fitzgerald, Frank Bova, Rod Million, Tom Mitchell. I was fortunate indeed to have stumbled into that ecology when I was just a kid. Frank is the last one still working, and truly he was as much big brother to me as mentor. Alas, the kind of rich collegial learning/mentoring environment we grew up in is hard to find these days.

And then there were the sessions that evoked the history of radiation therapy treatment planning. Dick Fraass reminded us of the incredible richness of innovation that exploded in the mid to late 1980s. As we all tend to do, he focused on the work that was closest to him and I do appreciate that the work I and my colleagues at UNC and Duke did together at least got a namecheck. It’s hard to convey to you what his brief talk dredged up for me – especially his mention of the Scheveningen ICCR meeting. It was a remarkable moment in time and a gathering of talent and creativity the likes of which is rarely seen. So many of us who attended were at that moment creating some aspect of a generational change in RTP form and function, so much of which is now standard practice. I was just a kid. Of course you never see the scope of a thing like that when you’re in the middle of it – I mostly was aggravated with the rain. But to be not just a witness but a contributor is truly a gift.

It’s good to have my contributions of decades ago remembered on the increasingly rare occasion that happens. Also really good to remember things together. I see that the part of my career (and life) where I have a steadily shrinking group of folks to remember with has started to take hold. So it goes, of course. I don’t have to like it.

The worst of that is that I might have to start acting like a grownup. The thing about being the gadfly, the provocateur, the bad cop is that it has most value in collaboration with and contrast to someone else who is or at least seems to be levelheaded and reasonable. There can be tremendous value in shifting the center of mass by staking a position way off center but to do so without assurance that someone else will secure the new center can be unhelpful, even irresponsible. Well crap.

– GWS

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