Writing about my friend Ken Edelin in the past tense so soon after his death (Dec. 30, 2013) is difficult and satisfying only in view of having an opportunity to salute the accomplishments of an Oak Bluffs black history maker.
At the celebration of Dr. Kenneth C. Edelin’s life at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel on Saturday, Jan. 18, we were provided with a program, some of which he wrote himself. In an excerpt from his book Broken Justice, he explained why he became a doctor:
“When I was 12, I watched my mother suffer and slowly die of breast cancer. I witnessed the failure of science, medicine and prayer as her body withered away to nothing. She was only 46. Through the loneliness of being a motherless child, shuttled from relative to relative through the turmoil of adolescence and rebellion, I became all the more determined to be a doctor — a woman’s doctor — to save lives and perhaps spare some other woman’s son the anguish I had to go through.”
For two hours, over a dozen colleagues, friends, family members and dignitaries shared well-prepared thoughts with an overflowing audience of over 500 representing the establishments of Boston, Oak Bluffs and Sarasota, Fla., among others.
Ken Edelin was remembered as a doctor, a man, a person and a friend. An erudite man of letters (he wrote both prose and poetry), he was said to be a man who filled the space at family gatherings — a man for whom doing right and well were synonymous, particularly when related to patient care and respect. Gov. Deval Patrick reflected on the good doctor’s life. His nephew, Jeh Charles Johnson, the new Secretary of Homeland Security, brought and read a personal letter from President Barack Obama and the First Lady about Ken. Cecile Richards, the president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood, spoke on the meaning of his contributions to women’s medicine and read a warm letter of thanks from Gloria Steinem.
With humor and fun, one of his best friends and colleagues, Dr. Edgar O. Mandeville, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Harlem Hospital, recounted the time when Ken’s wife Barbara quickly organized a reception for President Obama here in Oak Bluffs. Ken and Barbara were both huge supporters of the president, and Ken was to introduce him. Always well-spoken and never at a loss for words, he called Dr. Mandeville the next day to tell him he had failed with the introduction. When Obama entered, all he could do was say, “I love you, man,” and give him a hug. The reaction then and at the service was the same: peals of laughter.
Dr. Mandeville also shared funny stories Ken used to tell — like the time when across a packed cafeteria a former patient stood up and hollered, “Dr. Edelin, You made me pregnant!” Sherrillyn Ifill, who was active for many years with the board of directors of the NAACP’s legal defense and education fund, and Elaine Jones, the former president, spoke of Dr. Edelin’s commitment, judgment and leadership, and his always useful and sometimes less than tactful advice. Dr. Robert Rusher, a former student and pulmonary physician with Kaiser Permanente, read a warm letter from the president of the University of the Virgin Islands. Deborah C. Jackson, president of Cambridge College and the former president of the Massachusetts American Red Cross, recounted how close her family had become with Ken Edelin’s — and how Ken had delivered her first-born son.
With some emotion, former WBZ-TV anchorwoman Rev. Liz Walker welcomed everyone and related personal and professional stories. Dr. Edelin’s eight adorable grandchildren took the stage and before one spoke at the end, lined up and said in unison: “As Dr. Kenneth Edelin would say, we are his DNA.” It was a warm and poignant crowd pleaser and a fitting close to a celebration commemorated by tears, applause and cheers.
Dr. Kenneth C. Edelin made history and was called a hero of the women’s movement by a leading newspaper. Ken Edelin also made friends — and I’m honored to have been among them.
Skip Finley writes the Oak Bluffs column for the Gazette.