My first reaction was complete shock when I played back the messages on
my answering machine last Saturday. My lifelong friend Peter Kinder had left
a sobering message. His father, Dr. James Kinder, had been killed in an auto
accident that morning.
Shortly after I’d heard, I e-mailed my brother Rush with the tragic news.
His four-word response captured my sentiments as well: “I can’t believe it.”
Neither of us could believe that our pediatrician, our dad’s best friend,
the husband of our mother’s best friend, had died.
We couldn’t believe it because Dr. Kinder and his family have always been
a part of our lives. He had not only been our doctor; he was my children’s
doctor, too, still making occasional house calls at the age of 82.
When you lose your parents you experience a keen sense of your own
mortality. Among the things anchoring you in your grieving stage is the
continued presence of some of their peers. The Kinders are an integral part
of my connection to the past.
Dr. Kinder was a quintessential member of the “Greatest Generation.” He
lived through the Depression, served his country in World War II and
dedicated his life to serving others, especially children.
All four of Dr. Kinder’s sons participated in the funeral ceremony, three
of them with eulogies and one in song. Son Mark said that when he was in
town visiting his parents not long ago, a young doctor new to the community,
upon learning that Mark was Dr. Kinder’s son remarked, “Your dad is an
example to all of us.” The words are increasingly meaningful to Mark as he
reflects on his loss.
Son Frank described his father as a true gentleman who always put his
commitment to the children he cared for at the forefront of his life. Among
the reasons he chose pediatrics was his love for children. When making the
rounds with him one time at the hospital, Frank noticed a forlorn expression
on his dad’s face as he emerged from a patient’s room. “What’s wrong, dad?”
Frank asked. “The little boy has leukemia and won’t make it much longer,”
said Dr. Kinder. He always empathized with his patients and suffered when
Frank related how his dad would always assure him and other patients
before giving them a shot that “this will hurt me more than it will hurt
you.” Frank described how it didn’t take him too long to figure out that
that didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t until later in life that Frank grasped
the fullness and sincerity of his dad’s remark.
Son Peter focused on his dad’s military and community service, including
his lifetime of active participation with the Boy Scouts of America.
Poignantly, he invoked the Scout Oath and the Scout Law to summarize his
dad’s life and his character. Not a syllable of political correctness
appears in either.
“On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to
obey the Scout law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself
physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind,
obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”
Indeed, these attributes defined Dr. Jim. He was devoted to God,
overflowing with kindness, mentally acute and robust with integrity. Frank
could not recall a single family Christmas that wasn’t interrupted with his
dad’s exit to attend to an ailing patient.
Recently, numerous politicians have exploited the phrase “for the
children.” The full measure of their cynical, self-congratulation is brought
into clear focus when set against the humble, unpretentious life of service
exhibited by Dr. Jim. He was a father’s father, a doctor’s doctor, a
patriot’s patriot and a servant’s servant.
Dr. Kinder playfully referred to his patients as “scalawags.” Those of us
“scalawags” whose lives he touched can take some solace in our conviction
that he is now in a better place — that holy place alluded to by son James
in song — getting a brief respite before embarking upon his next career of
devotion and service.