Emory Report
November 17, 2008
Volume 61, Number 12

The Spirits
of This Lawn

For everyone comes to
the arts too late

For there is the matter of
that famous sparrow —

the one that flew out of a
raging storm

through the great
banqueting hall

in the words of
The Venerable Bede

the sparrow that flew in
one door

and out another, from
winter dark

and back to dark, in an
eye’s twinkle

For is that flight not like
our lives:

‘What there before-goes

or what there after-follows

we know not.’

For the human quest begets more questions

For the question is at least as important as the answer

Praise both.

Excerpted from “The Spirits of This Lawn” — composed by John H. Stone in honor of Jim Wagner on his inauguration as 19th president of Emory University, April 2, 2004.



Emory Report homepage  

November 17
, 2008
Remembering John Stone, doctor-poet

By Sylvia Wrobel

John H. Stone III, Emory’s doctor-poet, practiced life and medicine as he celebrated both in his poems: with joy, careful listening, and wonder.

As cardiologist, mentor to medical students and residents, and as an internationally recognized poet and essayist, the heart was his special territory. He wore his self-described “double harness of medicine and literature” easily, always ready to capture an image, the revealing power of simple moments, on the note cards he carried in his pocket.

He loved words and stories, and he shared his happily, in almost a dozen books, some literary, some medical, and in numerous readings and speeches or in a snatch of a poem offered to a passerby in the hall. No matter the number of persons present, these were intimate experiences, a glimpse of the human connection his patients must have felt. David Bottoms, Georgia’s poet laureate, once said that exposure to the poems of John Stone “is like getting a house call from an eminent physician of the spirit.”

John was born in Jackson, Miss., in 1936. He graduated from hometown Millsaps College, received his MD from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and completed a residency in medicine and cardiology at the University of Rochester. He came to Emory for a fellowship in cardiology — and stayed for nearly 40 years as a member of the medical school faculty.

He spent the first half of his career at Grady Memorial Hospital where he founded the emergency medicine residency program and cheered as emergency medicine became a department. His 1978 book on the principles and practices of emergency medicine was the first comprehensive textbook in the then-emerging specialty. Students adored him, several times voting him best clinical professor, and he was associate dean for admissions for 19 years. After his retirement, he remained deeply involved with the University.

John’s conviction that literature could imbue in young physicians the importance of patients’ and their own humanity had a national impact. He created one of the first medical school courses combining literature and medicine, and taught it at Emory and in Emory’s summer studies program at Oxford University. “On Doctoring,” his anthology of literature and medicine (co-edited with Richard Reynolds), has been given to every U.S. medical student since 1991 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

At Emory, John often spoke at medical graduation and other events, including President Jim Wagner’s inauguration. His two-man show with Emory music professor William Ransom, “The Poet and the Pianist,” was performed in Carnegie Hall and at Emory alumni events all over the country. On Veterans Day, he sometimes gave informal, mellifluous readings of World War I poems. He was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2007, one of many such honors.

John’s poems most often sang of life, of catching a bass with his then-young son, of a lusty interpretation of Mona Lisa’s smile. But as a physician, he also often wrote of patient encounters, of literal as well as metaphorical pains of the heart, and of loss. A line from one of his poems, in which death sometimes comes as “slowly as rust” and sometimes as unexpectedly as “finding the doorknob come loose in his hand,” could have described his own sudden illness and his death on Nov. 6. He would have liked that he caught the essence, and we all wish he were still here to share it with us.

He left behind a great legacy and a loving family. His sons Jim and John graduated from Emory and are now physicians at Emory Johns Creek Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, respectively. Their mother, Lu Stone, died in 1991. John’s second wife Mae Nelson Stone worked at Emory with him for years and after his retirement continued to help shape his life so he could write.

A memorial service for has been scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 10, 2009, in the Glenn Memorial Church at 11 a.m. A reception will follow from 12:30 to 3 p.m.

The family asks that any memorial gifts be sent to the John Stone Fund for Emergency Medicine (Suite 440, 1440 Clifton Road, Atlanta, 30322).

Sylvia Wrobel met John Stone when she headed health sciences communications and he was medical editor of Emory Medicine. Over the next 25 years, she was one of the lucky people with whom he sometimes shared his poems.