Aug. 31, 2017 | Amid all the handshakes, hugs, smiles and laughter, UAMS alumni reminisced and caught up on their divergent paths, delighted to be together again – some who hadn’t seen each other since graduation, decades ago.
The 2017 Alumni Weekend held Aug. 18-20 welcomed back more than 200 graduates from all colleges with a chance to reconnect, not only with classmates and friends, but their university as well.
Weekend festivities began with a Friday night reception on the 12th floor of the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, co-hosted by UAMS Interim Chancellor Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., and the Chancellor’s Circle, UAMS’ premier annual giving society. Gardner thanked alumni for their support of the institution, particularly through scholarships.
Sponsors for this year’s Alumni Weekend were the Arkansas Medical Society, Crothall Healthcare, ARORA, Arkansas Urology and Westrock Coffee Company.
Deans from four colleges were in attendance: Pope. L. Moseley, M.D., UAMS executive vice chancellor and dean of the College of Medicine; Patricia Cowan, Ph.D., R.N., dean of the College of Nursing; Keith M. Olsen, Pharm.D., dean of the College of Pharmacy; and Douglas L. Murphy, Ph.D., dean of the College of Health Professions.
Golden Graduates – those celebrating 50 years or more – were given commemorative medallions with red and blue ribbons, which many wore proudly. Alumni and their guests met and mingled, some needing a quick glance at buttons featuring their yearbook photos to reacquaint with old friends. A gaggle of Class of ’97 graduates spent the evening together, 20 years seeming barely any time at all.
As the sun set and splashed the room with bright colors, alumni sat in small groups at tables decorated with white hydrangea blooms, enjoying heavy hors d’oeuvres and live jazz music. Several lingered by televisions with a slideshow of the 1967 Caduceus, pointing out themselves or former classmates. Others carried glossy copies of class pictures and examined them closely.
William Weaver, M.D., of Lake Village, and John Webb, M.D., of Gainesville, Texas, both COM ’52, spent much of the weekend attending events together. Because their names are so close alphabetically, Weaver and Webb sat next to each other for four years in medical school and were side-by-side in their Caduceus class pictures. They became close friends and have kept in touch for more than 60 years.
Webb said that, as a UAMS graduate, he had an advantage over other medical schools because of the hands-on experience he had treating patients – in his case, those with diphtheria and typhoid fever. “They [at other schools] had more research experience than we had, but we [at UAMS] had more clinical experience,” Webb said.
It was a family affair for Weaver, who was escorted by his granddaughter, Natalie Burr, M.D., COM ’14. Burr said that having multiple generations of small-town doctors in Lake Village comes with a lot of name recognition. “Even still, 30 years after he quit practicing, you’d go in the grocery store and meet someone he delivered,” she said of her grandfather.
It was a more casual atmosphere on Saturday morning. A continental breakfast with plenty of hot coffee greeted alumni at the I. Dodd Wilson Education Building. Several enjoyed the historical display, courtesy of the UAMS Historical Research Center, featuring old annuals, textbooks, various medical equipment and a bird’s-eye view of the campus as it was nearly 50 years ago.
After a welcome from Gardner and Dean Lee, Ed.D., UAMS executive director of alumni and constituent relations, class was in session. Joseph Bates, M.D., COM ’57, professor and associate dean of public health for the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health, led a wide-ranging discussion on public health in Arkansas. Bates, renowned as a public health hero, recently retired as deputy state health officer and chief science officer for the Arkansas Department of Health.
That kind of commitment is only a small part of the dedication of UAMS alumni, Lee said.
Lee praised alumni for their service across multiple disciplines. “In unison, everybody turns and looks at you as the go-to person to save the day – and you do,” he said. “It’s not just a 40-hour-a-week job. It’s 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Thank you for choosing a life of service, and thank you for choosing UAMS.”
Saturday showcase lectures, always a popular item, were brought back. Alumni from each college broke into groups and settled into classrooms, where they listened and learned about a range of topics including neurology, mental health, precision medicine, orthopaedics, heart disease and community pharmacy. Follow-up questions and the ensuing discussions led to many showcases being extended, as they were the year before.
Their appetites whet for knowledge, alumni were led across campus for college-centered catered lunches, and a chance to talk one-on-one with their dean. At the College of Medicine luncheon, held at the I. Dodd Wilson Education Building, Moseley thanked alumni for serving as ambassadors. “You, as graduates, demonstrate every day the successes of UAMS,” he said.
Moseley presented the 2017 Dean’s Distinguished Alumnus Award to James Y. Suen, M.D., COM ’66, distinguished professor and former chair of the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. Suen stepped down as chair of the department in April after 43 years of continuous service and is believed to be the longest-serving chair of otolaryngology in United States history. He was instrumental in development of what is now the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, serving from 2001 to 2007 as its third director, and he holds the Patricia and J. Floyd Kyser, M.D., Endowed Chair in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
“James has really embodied the physician-scholar that we’ve talked about – someone who has pioneered clinical innovation and used scholarship to develop new ways to care for patients,” Moseley said.
“Success and achievements are rarely accomplished by one person,” Suen said. “I accept this honor on behalf of my nurses, my administrative assistants, my residents, my colleagues, all who have helped me with patient care, my academic achievements or endeavors – I could not do anything I do without all of the people that help me.”
Saturday night’s Southern Supper, held in the main ballroom of the Little Rock Marriott, was the weekend’s smash hit. Inside, dozens of tables draped in elegant black surrounded a wooden dance floor leading up to the main stage, where the Lockhouse Orchestra played golden oldies and contemporary hits. A smorgasbord of Southern delicacies were on the menu, including red beans and rice, fried okra and gumbo, with pecan pie and bread pudding for dessert.
Alumni waited in long lines throughout the evening to get their pictures etched into a small commemorative crystal keepsake. In the meantime, several hit the dance floor – at least one in bare feet – to sway and rock as the music took them. Song requests came in for Chuck Berry, Glen Campbell and Led Zeppelin. “Boy, that band is great – they can play anything,” said Rick Bell, M.D., COM ’67, before breaking into an air guitar riff.
Midway through the evening, most Golden Graduates – many still wearing their medallions – retired to private rooms and reminisced. The Class of ’67, this year’s newest Golden Graduates, took class photos with their phones, remembered old times and talked of their grandchildren.
Sunday morning, Golden Graduates arrived early for brunch at the Capital Hotel. Held in the hotel’s first floor ballroom, alumni crowded around lavishly appointed tables and tucked in to heaping plates of eggs benedict, crispy bacon, plump sausages, cheese grits and fresh fruit.
Anita Mitchell, Ph.D., Marilyn Harper and Freda Bush, M.D., all CON ’67, had a happy and long-awaited reunion in the foyer – the first time they’d seen each other since graduation 50 years ago. Initially, they didn’t recognize each other, until each looked at the other’s button of her younger self, Harper said. After that, they were inseparable.
“We’re older versions of our younger selves,” Bush said, laughing.
There was plenty to catch up on, but they quickly made up for lost time, telling stories.
“When you start thinking about the dreams and goals that we had then, and how we separated from each other, didn’t see each other, didn’t communicate with each other, and now we’re back together,” Bush said. “We’ve fulfilled our dreams and our goals! It’s nice seeing that we have really made significant contributions; we didn’t just go away.”