Tree Surgeon

A giant white oak more than a century old stands majestically in the lush grass about twenty yards in front of the main entrance to Emory University Hospital. Several sturdy concrete benches sit near its ample trunk, and on torrid summer days the seats are kept cool and shady by the tree's thick, leafy limbs.

"The tree is in extremely good health," says Charles Scott, who oversees caring for Emory's grounds. "We've fertilized it every other year for fifteen years. It's in great shape." Half a century ago, however, the tree's long-term health was anything but certain.

During the mid 1940s, the hospital expanded and construction plans included cutting down a number of big trees, including the white oak. But when F. Phinizy Calhoun Sr. '04M-'54H, who had recently retired as chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology after three decades, learned the trees were scheduled to go on the chopping block, he decided to try and put a stop to it.

An Emory benefactor and longtime trustee who in 1922 performed the first operation at Emory Hospital, Calhoun served on the board's buildings and grounds committee. He took great pride in his role as a campus preservationist, and according to an article in the March 1965 issue of Emory Magazine, "Many an evening found [Calhoun] in his study at home, a blueprint spread on his lap, doing his homework for the building and grounds committee."

Calhoun met with members of the Board of Trustees and hospital executives to plead his case on behalf of the trees, and he eventually won them over. Because of his particular fondness for the aforementioned white oak and as a tribute to his concern for campus beautification, in the fall of 1964, when Calhoun was in his eighties, the great old oak was dedicated in his honor. A large, shiny bronze plaque was affixed to the tree so that it faces toward the hospital. It reads:


A tribute to Dr. F. Phinizy Calhoun, Sr., whose interest in the trees and plantings on this campus has made Emory University more beautiful.

Calhoun passed away in 1965. Prior to his death, he had been crafting a poem about the tree he helped spare. "I am an old oaken tree," went the verse. "Age, memories, known but to me. I lived and grew despite life's strife; Thank God and him who saved my life."--J.D.T.

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