Tuesday, January 19, 2021 -
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My friend Will Hiatt

One could make many mistakes about the late Will Hiatt.

He was a strapping, handsome man, strong. He exercised every day. When he swam a length of the pool, if you looked away for a moment it seemed that he was already at the other side. He rode a bicycle. His exercise routine encompassed a lot of things. He was a marathon runner. He climbed every 14-er in Colorado and Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. That’s the first mistake one might make, thinking that Will Hiatt was a sportsman, a person focused strictly on the body.

Will Hiatt was a physician; actually, you might say, a physician’s physician. Not because he was a professor of medicine — impressive enough. But because he published roughly 10 peer-reviewed research articles a year. This quantity of research is very rare. His field was vascular medicine. If you’re at the top of this profession, you might receive the highest honor of the American Heart Association. Will received it twice. Or you might publish in the New England Journal of Medicine once in a career. Will published in it four times. That’s the second mistake one might make, thinking that Will Hiatt was an egghead, hermetically focused on his research.

Will Hiatt was a family man. He made it home for dinner with the family almost every night. He went to concerts. He played with his grandchildren. Indeed he marveled over them. He loved Susan, his wife of 48 years, who knew how to pick out a good necktie for him. He talked about his daughter, an accomplished attorney. That’s the third mistake one might make, thinking that Will Hiatt was one of those people who didn’t amount to much in the “real world,” but took home the real prize: a fine family life.

Will Hiatt was a health administrator and adviser. He ran a large and sophisticated lab. He sat on — or chaired — the boards of the relevant cardiological committees of the FDA, of the CU medical school, of Gates Biomanufacturing, of the American Heart Assn. He was president of the Society of Vascular Medicine. We all know that medicine has become super-specialized; that it really isn’t possible anymore to practice medicine and also to supervise its delivery modes. That’s the fourth mistake one might make, thinking that Will Hiatt was an “administrator doctor,” a person who ran the lab but didn’t do any of the research himself, who figured out what the right educational or pharmacological policies in medicine might be, but had no hand in seeing them through to their execution.

Will Hiatt was a teacher, a mentor of physician scientists, and a clinical practitioner. He loved teaching in the classroom and loved seeing patients. That’s the fifth mistake one might make, thinking that Will Hiatt was a people person, one who preferred the human aspect of medicine over the test tube and statistical research.

Will Hiatt was a victim of lung cancer for the last four years. It came on somewhat mysteriously. He “just wasn’t feeling right,” he said, and went for a check-up. The diagnosis and treatment took up a lot of his time, but he kept up his exercise routine for some three years, commenting that he wasn’t going to let this get him down. At the same time, while he was at the top of his research game, he made arrangements for a successor to head his lab and was very pleased to have recruited a top person. That’s the sixth mistake one might make, thinking that Will Hiatt could think of little else during these past four years, merely putting his affairs in order.

Will Hiatt was a wonderful friend and a spiritual searcher. He kept up with people. He was interested in other people’s lives. He looked forward to reading Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the Intermountain Jewish News each week. He talked about the Shma, about faith, about the meaning of life. That’s the seventh mistake one might make, thinking that Will Hiatt was the type who found the most meaning outside of his profession, beyond the 9 to 5 slot. So there you go — so many possible mistakes about one single person.

Will Hiatt was a sportsman, a researcher, a family man, an administrator, an adviser, a people person, a bearer of adversity, a spiritual person and a friend. All of them.

It was as a friend that I knew Will Hiatt best. What a presence he was in my life for so many years. What a blessing. So accomplished, so understated. So professional, so natural. So articulate, such a listener. So serious, so much fun. There is no mistaking it: Will was all of these. 

May G-d bind up his soul in the bonds of eternal life that he believed in so deeply.

• • •

I can just picture Will telling me, after reading the above, “That was a nice article” — until he realized it was about him. That would pull him up short. He would fall silent. As indeed he is now silenced except in our memories.

What powerful and beautiful if painful memories they are.

Copyright © 2021 by the Intermountain Jewish News

IJN Executive Editor | hillel@ijn.com

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