A moment of gratitude

Eric Lyttle

I worked for John Wolfe during the last two years he owned the Columbus Dispatch. I didn't know him. I had a couple of awkward exchanges with him-awkward only because I'm lousy at small talk, and he was particularly hard of hearing.

I learned more about John Wolfe after he died than I knew while he was alive. That's too bad. Much of what I know, I learned researching the story I wrote for this issue, which begins on page 56. But I also learned something else in the actual writing of the piece. I learned gratitude.

Almost all the writing for "Life After John F." took place at the James Cancer Hospital. Thirty-four days after Wolfe died, my wife underwent a mastectomy and breast reconstructive surgery. By every indication, the surgery was a fantastic success. I couldn't be more thankful.

I started writing the Wolfe story in the fourth-floor waiting room during Cindy's nine-hour surgery. I didn't get a lot accomplished. That evening, Cindy was moved to the 19th floor, and that's where we stayed for the next three days. In room 1934, I wrote more between visits from family and friends.

At some point, during a trip downstairs to the cafeteria, I walked past the large wall where the names of major donors to the Wexner Medical Center, including the James, were displayed. I'd passed the wall a number of times before, but this time I paused. And there, among the largest donors, was the name of John F. Wolfe and his wife, Ann.

It struck me like a slap-I was writing a story about the man who, only a few weeks earlier, had passed away just one floor below where doctors were now caring for my wife, in the hospital that he helped make possible for both of us. For everyone.

I'd been researching and writing about the man's impact on Columbus, his great influence, his generosity in helping make Columbus a better place to live. I'd listed his civic contributions in my story.

They were words on a page until I paused at that wall and realized that I was actually benefitting at that very moment.

I contacted Dr. Andy Thomas, the Wexner Medical Center's chief medical officer and Wolfe's attending physician. I wanted to know whether Wolfe was proud of the impact he'd had on so many lives, many unwittingly-like mine, had I not happened to pause at that wall. I was happy to hear that he was.

"Many times over the years, John has told me the story of the original founding of the James and how a small group of local business leaders along with Dr. James had a vision for improving cancer patient care and research in Central Ohio," Thomas wrote in an email. "He always liked sharing the stories of the different successes and challenges along the way to getting that done."

"The James was a particular passion of his long before he developed cancer," Thomas wrote.

It's easy to overlook the contributions of the rich and powerful. It's almost expected that they give their time and money. Some give more selflessly than others. Some benefit more than others. I benefitted a great deal. Had I realized then what I realize now, I might have found the words to thank John Wolfe during one of those awkward encounters. I'm grateful he took pride in helping.