Bruce Davis' father was dying, that much was clear. While others might have hoped for a miracle, neither Bruce nor his father had the capacity for delusion. They had at least that much in common, a faith in the empirical, an appreciation of the observable and the measurable. And what could be observed and measured on Gibson Island in the autumn of 1996 was that time was collapsing for Dr. Hugh Davis.
Each day removed a measure of weight and color from Davis, whose vitality and arrogance once made lecture halls at Johns Hopkins medical school seem all too confining. Pancreatic cancer was erasing him. If Bruce were to square accounts with his father, if he were to achieve a peaceful ending to a relationship characterized by acrimony and competition, it would have to be now.
But what words of reconciliation could he offer to a father who had abandoned him emotionally, who had surrendered his role as protector and leader? What comfort could he give to the man who had led his family into scandal and ruin?
Where his father was concerned, Bruce's instincts nudged him toward censure rather than generosity. It had been different once. Bruce had felt an unqualified love for Hugh, and pride, too. But that had changed, and Bruce knew precisely the line of demarcation.
The Dalkon Shield disaster was the darkness that had lingered over his family for nearly a quarter of a century. It was the before and after of everything. Before: Hugh Davis was a rising force in international medicine at Johns Hopkins, a bold innovator in the field of women's health and family planning. After: His name was synonymous with medicine's perceived misogyny and the most pernicious impulses of corporate America.
Thousands of women suffered because of Hugh Davis' invention. Women the world over contracted searing infections from the IUD that the A.H. Robins Co. rushed to market. Many became infertile. Some died. The last remaining lawsuits involving the Dalkon Shield are scheduled to end this week. By the time appeals are exhausted, more than $3 billion will have been paid to nearly 200,000 women or their families who filed injury or death claims.
For Bruce Davis, the repercussions were devastating as well. Before the Dalkon Shield, Hugh Davis was the voluble patriarch of his family, the bountiful provider of wealth, both financial and intellectual. After, in the grip of mental illness, he became their tormentor, a man whose paranoia, obsessions and rage were suffocating.
But the cancer would soon consume Hugh Davis, and Bruce would be left to decipher what it had all meant, what they had been to each other and why. He could not change their past. All he could do now was try to fashion an ending he could live with for the rest of his life.
Late on that October afternoon in 1996, Bruce sat on a marble-topped coffee table next to the worn leather couch where Hugh lay, no longer able to rise. The only illumination in the room was the blue, late-afternoon sunlight reflected off the Chesapeake Bay.
Hugh could not speak or digest food, his skin was ashen and his breathing uneven. He had finally consented to morphine, but his eyes remained alert. Bruce was convinced that his father, ever the doctor and scientist, had calculated the precise moment of his death. Perhaps that wasn't so remarkable. Hugh"s weight had tumbled under 70 pounds. There wasn't much left of him to take.
Surmising that this would be their last conversation, Bruce gently grasped his father's skeletal hand in his own. Then, he began to speak.
It is one of Bruce Davis' most distinct childhood memories: He is with his father in the darkened dining room of their Guilford home. Bruce, 12 years old, stocky and with a dark drift of curly hair, sits at one end of the dining room table, holding a slim, metal cylinder containing optical lenses and a light. Hugh stands behind him with a watch. At his instruction, Bruce inserts a long forceps through the tube and begins picking at a string lying on the table.
The cylinder is a laparoscope, a medical instrument used to explore and perform surgery in the abdominal cavity. The forceps are Hugh's latest prototype, an instrument he believes will allow surgeons greater precision in sterilization procedures. At the far end is a tiny rubber band, which, in Hugh's design, can be deployed to tie off a woman's Fallopian tubes. The string on the table is the stand-in for the Fallopian tubes.
Peering through the eyepiece and manipulating the rings controlling the forceps, Bruce clamps down on the string and draws it into the laparoscope. He then squeezes the rings the way his father has taught him, and the rubber band snaps tightly into place around the string.
"Great!" Hugh exclaims. "Three minutes!"
Hugh has Bruce repeat the procedure over and over, peppering him all the time with questions. How are the size and shape of the grip? Is depth perception a problem? Is the eyepiece comfortable? Hugh discourses on the history of abdominal surgery, but otherwise, there is little extraneous conversation. They focus on the task at hand.
After numerous tests with the string, Hugh places a raisin in front of Bruce and asks him to try picking it up. Then a penny.
Finally, Hugh turns on the overhead light and retrieves the instruments from Bruce. He sits down at the opposite end of the table and is immediately engrossed in his examination of the
instruments. Hugh will stay here late into the night trying to perfect the marriage between the laparoscope and the forceps. When his son gets up and leaves the room, Hugh does not notice.
Bruce was accustomed to performing as Hugh's lab assistant. These sessions were one of the main forums for interaction between father and son. "We didn't play baseball together," Bruce says. "We invented surgical devices together."
The remark sounds at once nostalgic and rueful. Tinkering with his father on his inventions was not altogether unpleasant. Bruce was mechanically inclined himself, and he marveled at Hugh's ingenuity and his intellect. But the inventions were his father's obsessions. Bruce understood early that Hugh didn't have the slightest inclination to indulge Bruce in his own interests.
"My father was not a sensitive person who cared about how others felt. I can count on one hand the number of times he asked how I was doing."
At 35, Bruce is the same age his father was when Hugh first started experimenting with intrauterine devices in the early 1960s. Bruce doesn't look anything like Hugh, who had piercing eyes and a high hairline. He inherited the delicate features of his mother, a fashion model before her marriage. But his precise language and powers of analysis are all his father's. Bruce is a vice-president at Sylvan Prometric, a fast-growing division within the education giant Sylvan Learning Systems. He manages the company's overseas operations, which include testing centers in 114 countries. Long ago, Bruce rejected a medical career, a decision his father disparaged.
Bruce lives in a bungalow a few hundred yards from the uninhabited, Spanish-style house on Gibson Island where his parents endured the last 25 years of their lives. Scattered around the family home are photos of Hugh - always looking impatient to return to a laboratory - and certificates tracing his medical career. But Hugh Davis' presence is felt most strongly in the basement, where pieces of metal and plastic are scattered about on shelves and in steamer trunks. Prototypes of IUDs, forceps and tenacula, they look like the remnants of a child's afternoon with a play set, testament to the restless mind and energy once at work here.
Hugh Davis was a physician and an academic, but in his heart he regarded himself as a medical inventor, one of the few capable of nudging his entire profession forward. At Hopkins, he didn't concern himself with the career-enhancing hurdles that preoccupied most of his colleagues. He didn't seek board certification in obstetrics and gynecology or a full professorship. "I never knew anyone else who made that decision," says Howard Jones, who was in the ob/gyn department with Davis and became a lifelong friend. "He just couldn't be bothered."
Davis also dismissed physicians who could be satisfied with a medical practice. To him, they were just "baby-catchers." Hugh Davis saw a more far-reaching role for himself.
It wasn't empty ambition. Early in his residency at Hopkins, Davis devised a new type of catheter that could be used to diagnose infections in the urethra. He invented an insufflator, a device that expands the stomach to provide more room for surgical operations. He secured patents on several laparoscopes that enabled doctors to perform surgeries less invasively. And during a three-year study of cervical cancer in Denmark, he came up with the wholly original idea of a self-administered Pap smear test.
The test was used in Denmark, and Davis sold it to an American drug company, but it was never marketed in the United States because it required the retraining of laboratory pathologists. "He didn't have enough clout to get it done, but the idea was pure gold," says Clifford Wheeless, a fellow resident at Hopkins. Wheeless is convinced that Davis' Pap smear test would have saved countless lives through the early detection of cancer.
"He wasn't primarily interested in making money but in making a difference in the world," says Alan Bennett, a mechanical engineer and longtime friend.
In 1962, Davis returned from Denmark with a growing reputation and a stunning young bride named Jytte Peterson.
The children came quickly; Bruce soon after the couple returned to Baltimore, Rikke 15 months later. The family moved from a townhouse near Hopkins Hospital to a house in Guilford. Weekends and summers were spent in a cottage on the Eastern Shore. Eventually, Hugh bought a house on Gibson Island, an exclusive enclave where the Magothy River pours into the Chesapeake Bay.
Hugh was home for dinner with the family every night, although afterward he would repair to his study to look at cancer slides. He entertained colleagues at home all the time, and wanted the children present to participate in the conversations. There were regular family vacations abroad, and a lot of time spent together on the waterfront, where early in his life Bruce enjoyed his father's undivided attention. When Bruce was little more than 10, his father gave him his first boat, a small canoe, and spent hours teaching him to keep his balance while drawing the paddle through the water.
Hugh and Jytte (pronounced YU-ta) made for an odd match. He was inattentive to fashion, enjoyed port wine and cigarillos and dabbled in oil painting. Raised in Puerto Rico, where his father was a botanist in the U.S. Agriculture Department, he spoke Castilian Spanish as well as French, German, Danish and Japanese. He was a voracious reader and fascinated friends with the breadth of his knowledge. His style of conversation was aggressive, inquisitional, and his humor pointed. He was not a man to put you at ease.
Most of the charm and all the stylishness in the marriage came from Jytte. Her children would always regard her as the epitome of beauty and glamour. She spoke English with a heavy accent, but her warmth shone through. She was quick to befriend strangers, and never lost a touch of allure. When Hugh wanted to buy her a new car, she refused the station wagon he selected. She insisted on a sexy white 1969 Volvo 1800E; it still sits in the family garage.
Upon his return to Hopkins, Davis found American medicine preoccupied with world overpopulation. Allan Barnes, the chairman of Davis' department, secured for Hopkins an international grant to help address it. Davis was one of his most valuable soldiers, and he displayed an invaluable knack for maneuvering around red tape. He led many delegations to South America and Third World countries to teach techniques of contraception and sterilization.
Just as overpopulation was becoming a hot issue, skepticism was growing over one of the foremost weapons intended to address it. A number of scientists, including Davis, believed the Pill, which contained much stronger concentrations of estrogen in those days, caused dangerous side effects. The time was ripe for attention to shift back to the IUD.
Although it was an ancient form of contraception, the IUD, which fits into the uterus and blocks fertilization, was unpopular in the United
States because of its association with infections and its pregnancy rate. Davis, with his supreme confidence and enviable track record, believed he could invent a realistic alternative to the Pill by solving all the IUD's problems.
He began working around the clock on designs, testing many on patients at a Hopkins family planning clinic he founded near the hospital. Joe Finnerty, a Guilford neighbor who became Davis' lawyer, remembers noticing figurines on Davis' mantel and bookshelves. At first, Finnerty took them to be toy soldiers. He later learned that they were plastic molds of the interior of uteri.
Robert Israel, a Hopkins resident then, made many of those molds for Davis from the uteri of women who had undergone hysterectomies. Now a professor of gynecology at the University of Southern California, Israel worked closely with Davis on the early IUD prototypes. Impressed with Davis' limitless imagination and tornado-like energy, Israel was nonetheless troubled by the man's unchecked egotism.
"He was convinced that everything he did was right," says Israel. "It was very hard to argue with him." Israel remembers times when he reported study results to Davis on the early IUDs. "I would constantly tell him, 'The numbers are OK, but we don't have enough yet.' He didn't care about that. Once he was convinced he was right, that was it."
In the mid-60s, Davis met Irwin Lerner, an electrical engineer from Connecticut who had just opened a small manufacturing plant. Lerner was eager to market new products, and was thrilled to enlist the talents of an inveterate tinkerer like Davis. In 1967, Davis suggested to Lerner an ambitious product, a first-rate IUD.
A year or so later, the Dalkon Shield emerged. It represented a departure in at least two ways. It was shaped like a policeman's badge - hence its name - with claw-like fins on each side to anchor the device into the uterine walls. It also used a different type of string.
The string attached to an IUD allows a woman to ensure the device is in place and helps a doctor remove it. Davis believed his design required a stronger string. So, instead of a monofilament string, he and Lerner settled on a woven, multifilament string. It would prove a fateful decision.
Anticipating huge commercial success, Lerner incorporated in 1969 the Dalkon Corporation (from the names Davis, Lerner, and Robert Cohn, Lerner's attorney). Davis was listed as a 35 percent owner. By then, he was at work on a 12-month study of the Dalkon Shield.
The study's conclusion was stunning: the Dalkon Shield had a 1.1 percent pregnancy rate, a huge improvement for IUDs, a rate comparable to the Pill's.
Later, experts would testify that Davis did not use enough women for a credible study and that the women he did test did not use the Shield long enough - on average, only 5.5 months. They also said that Davis' instruction to many of the women to use a spermicide along with the Shield compromised his results.
Most alarming, they said Davis' own raw numbers over 14 months showed that the Dalkon Shield's pregnancy rate was not 1.1 percent but a mediocre 5 percent.
Nevertheless, only days after completing his 12-month study, Davis rushed his results into print in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. He extolled the Dalkon Shield as "a superior modern contraceptive." Nowhere in the article - nor in the book he published a year later - did Davis reveal his role in inventing the Shield or his financial interest.
In highly publicized Congressional hearings in January 1970, Davis described his grave reservations about the Pill while voicing enthusiasm for the IUD, "a safer alternative," in his words. During his testimony, he was asked if he had a commercial interest in any IUD. His reply was unequivocal: He did not.
Six months later, the A.H. Robins Co. of Richmond, Va. - best known as the maker of Chap Stick - purchased the Dalkon Shield for $750,000 plus 10 percent of net sales. Davis' share from the sale came to $242,812, and he was eventually paid more than $300,000 in royalties for the three years the product was on the market. Robins agreed to pay Davis $20,000 a year as a consultant and to help promote the Dalkon Shield.
Linda Abramson was a 19-year-old secretary in 1970 when she visited the Hopkins family planning clinic, and Hugh Davis recommended an IUD. It was safer than the Pill, he told her, and she wouldn't have to worry about bloating. He didn't mention that he had invented the device.
"It'll pinch a little," he said. Instead, it was like an ice pick to her abdomen. Tears streamed down her cheeks. You'll be fine, Davis told her, and sent her home.
She was not fine, not for years. The bleeding and cramping persisted for months until a family doctor insisted on removing the Dalkon Shield. By then, she had lost 25 pounds. And still the pain continued on and off for the next seven years. She would often become feverish for no apparent reason. Finally, she collapsed on a New York City street and was rushed to a hospital.
She was diagnosed with an infection of the uterus, the result, it was later determined, of the Dalkon Shield. Abramson would undergo eight surgeries to repair the scarring, operations that eventually enabled her to conceive a child. She also won a lawsuit against Robins.
She saw Davis only once after that initial visit, but she never stopped nursing her grievance against him. "Dr. Davis destroyed a lot of my life," says Abramson, who now lives in Hunt Valley. "It didn't have to be that way."
She was one of many.
Robins enjoyed fabulous success after launching the Dalkon Shield in January 1971, which only guaranteed the enormity of the calamity to come. Before Robins was pressured to suspend sales in 1974, the company had distributed 4.5 million Shields in 80 countries. By the mid-1980s, tens of thousands of American women had filed claims against Robins, most complaining of a searing, life-threatening infection called Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, which destroyed or impaired their ability to bear children. At least 18 women died from the disease.
The infections would later be attributed to the Shield's multifilament string, which provided an insulated passageway for harmful bacteria to travel from the vagina to the uterus. Robins had failed to conduct safety tests on the string, or the device.
After the sale to Robins, Davis had asked the company to pay him to do further study of the device, but his requests were rejected.
When reports of disease and death began accumulating, Robins covered up and even destroyed evidence. When women litigated, Robins attacked them for promiscuity and suggested they were suffering from sexually transmitted diseases. The Dalkon Shield was not to blame, the company said. The sexual revolution was.
But it was a losing battle. In 1984, a federal judge excoriated company executives in the harshest terms, denouncing them for their "monstrous mischief." The mounting claims would force Robins into bankruptcy and lead to the establishment of a trust fund that would eventually pay billions of dollars in Dalkon Shield claims.
Today, many authorities in the field of public health believe vast improvements in the IUD would make it the best option for millions of women. Yet because of the Dalkon Shield, women in this country won't use IUDs, manufacturers won't market them and insurance companies won't insure them. Fewer than 1 percent of U.S. women between the ages of 15 and 44 use IUDs. More prefer sterilization.
"The climate was poisoned by the Dalkon Shield, and it gave all IUDs a terrible reputation," says James Trussell, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton
University who writes about contraception. "The tragedy is that modern IUDs are extraordinarily safe and effective."
When the lawsuits began against Robins, Davis often was named as a co-defendant. He was sued hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Every day, process servers would appear at his Guilford doorstep to deliver another two or three lawsuits. Often, he would dispatch his son or daughter to ferry the papers down the street to Finnerty, his lawyer.
The Dalkon Shield was vilified in headlines, and protesters condemned the IUD on courthouse steps. In Bruce's eyes - then and now - his father was being persecuted. "All you know is that your family is under attack from all sides, and for some reason everyone is out to get him." Bruce would come to believe that his father was being victimized by avaricious lawyers. Instead of being hailed for championing women's health - work that may have helped hundreds of thousands - Hugh Davis was unjustly demonized as their menace. "My father," Bruce says, "was targeted and hunted by the legal profession."
Plaintiffs' lawyers dragged Davis all over the country to take his deposition. In the early cases, he denied any financial interest in the Dalkon Shield. Robins knew the truth, of course, although Roger Tuttle, the lawyer who handled the first litigation for the company, was kept in the dark.
"Davis perjured himself even after I cautioned him not to," says Tuttle, who now lives in retirement near Richmond.
Once Davis' misstatements surfaced, he rarely was called to testify in court. He was ruined as a witness for Robins.
He never seemed chastened though, and didn't make concessions, then or later. "He was outraged," says Finnerty. "He could not conceive that his product was defective. He believed the lawsuits were instigated by the manufacturers of competing contraceptive devices."
Davis believed there was a conspiracy against him, a notion that became unshakable when his Guilford home was burglarized. The only items missing were Davis' papers.
He hired a bodyguard and fretted that a plaintiff would try to harm one of his children. In their meetings, Finnerty found Davis distracted, obsessed by the "plot" to get him. More often than not, Davis would be unshaven, his dress careless. "It was as if he were giving up on things," says Finnerty. "He was becoming more and more withdrawn and morose."
His work at Hopkins suffered. He stopped lecturing, no longer made rounds or saw patients. He stopped operating. Hopkins was mortified about its connection to the Dalkon Shield scandal, but it apparently dealt gently with Davis, even as it became clear that he was no longer up to his duties. In 1982, the university offered him a buyout, and Davis resigned.
He withdrew to Gibson Island. Jytte put the Guilford house on the market and began selling off the investment property they had purchased near Hopkins in good times. Eventually, she would be forced to sell pieces of art off the walls to make ends meet. Hugh, in his 50s when he left Hopkins, showed no inclination or capacity to work. Certainly, he never considered opening a medical practice.
"That would have been dull to him, which would have been like torture," says Bruce.
For Bruce, living at home was becoming torture. Hugh's mood changes were quicksilver, and he raged at his family, particularly Jytte. "He would denounce her as the source of all his troubles," Bruce said. Hugh's verbal dexterity made his words acid, and Bruce often had to step in to protect his tearful mother. At 14 or 15, Bruce started urging Jytte to seek a divorce, the same advice she was getting from friends. Jytte said Hugh had given her many good years; she wouldn't abandon him.
Besides, she said, she loved him.
Restless even in the best of times, now Hugh barely slept at all, and he did what he could to keep everyone else awake as well. "You were aware of his presence at all times," says Bruce. "The house would go from being a fairly quiet place to being highly agitated. He's storming about. If you're nearby, he engages you. He's inconsiderate of your needs."
And still Hugh's imagination rolled on, which meant that he constantly drafted his son into his latest preoccupations. "He would keep me up until 11 or 12 at night working on his project, whatever that might be. For a long time, it was medical devices. He then became obsessed with solar power, and he would ask me to do his drawings and mathematical calculations. We worked for a long time on agricultural hormones to improve livestock growth, and I helped him write research papers and actually filed incorporation and patent documents for him."
Hugh didn't encourage Bruce's own interests. He never drove him to his sporting events, and didn't participate in decisions about his son's future. Bruce felt himself unworthy of Hugh's attentions. "He had fairly early on reached the conclusion that I was not of the intellectual horsepower that he had hoped and had denounced me. ... When I wasn't interested in studies and didn't do particularly well, he took that as a harbinger of a hopeless future and disengaged from any real conversation of where I might go to college."
Rikke, 15 months younger than Bruce and now a lawyer in Washington, suffered her father's withering tongue, too, but she was able to perceive what her brother could not. "Despite everything," she said recently, "it was always crystal clear to me that my father loved us. Bruce should have seen that, too."
What Bruce could see was his father's grave unhappiness. Hugh no longer mentioned the Dalkon Shield, but Bruce knew he brooded about it. "His days were filled with personally inflicted tortures. He was incapable of simply getting up and enjoying his day. I don't think there was a moment of the day for the last 20 years of his life that he didn't think of these events in tragic terms."
Bruce couldn't stand any longer to be a set piece within that tragedy. With his acceptance to Loyola College, he left home. But his mother's pleas for help followed him. By then his father had been diagnosed as manic depressive, an idea Hugh found preposterous. He wouldn't stay on his medication, so his behavior became ever more erratic and volatile until one day he disappeared. Eventually, a call came from a priest at a downtown Baltimore church. Hugh had taken up residence in the rectory, and now he wouldn't come out of his room.
Jytte was overwhelmed. Bruce and Rikke decided they had no options left. They petitioned the court for an order committing Hugh to Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital. As police officers escorted him out of the church, he spotted his children. He shook his fist and railed at their betrayal. Two more commitments would follow during the next 10 years.
Recognition that his father was mentally ill did not ease the resentment Bruce felt toward Hugh. In Bruce's mind, Hugh's downfall did not relieve him of his obligations as a father and a husband.
"I could easily forgive my father for mistakes as a medical researcher and as a businessman," he says, "but I could not forgive him for quitting, for giving up his responsibilities as a parent and a head of a household."
So Bruce distanced himself.
After college, he spent 11 years staying away from Hugh, including a four-year stint in Egypt, where he worked for a management consulting firm supervising the spending of American aid. When Bruce made an occasional visit home, the two inevitably argued. Over time, though, Bruce could see the fight going out of his father. Whether it was because Hugh was finally taking his lithium or that he was physically giving out, Bruce detected a growing regretfulness in his father.
"I think he was realizing that he was not going to come back, that there wasn't going to be another great medical invention, that there wasn't going to be world-class recognition. The world didn't care anymore. It had moved on from Hugh Davis and the Dalkon Shield. They were in the history books now. He was just a man with a wife and two kids and perhaps a very limited life span. He was more open to interaction, more grateful for us, less judgmental. I think he knew he had work to do."
Bruce returned to the United States to get his MBA at Columbia University. Upon his graduation in 1994, he fielded numerous job offers - many of them overseas - but decided he had evaded his father long enough. It was time to return home, if for no other reason than to share his mother's burden. He never imagined he was coming back to watch both his parents die.
Soon after Bruce moved into a house just down the street on Gibson Island, his father contracted pneumonia and nearly died. Though Hugh recovered, he became severely jaundiced. Within two weeks, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Jytte pushed herself to exhaustion caring for him. The cruelest turn would come later. Within weeks of Hugh's death, Jytte would be diagnosed with cancer, too. Lying in her bed, she beseeched Rikke to throw Hugh's photograph into the Chesapeake. He was bad luck, she told her daughter. But it was too late to lift the spell. Jytte would die eight months after her husband.
At least with Jytte, Bruce had enjoyed an uncomplicated, loving relationship. She openly showed her adoration for her children and was joyous about Bruce's decision to return home. The work Bruce had to do was with his father.
Oddly, Hugh's illness gave father and son an entry into conversation. They had always talked about medicine. When Bruce was a child, Hugh had given him "Gray's Anatomy" and the Annals of Internal Medicine. Now, they began their time together with lengthy discussions about what was happening within Hugh's body. The conversations were utterly clinical; they might have been discussing experimental results on laboratory animals. Bruce and his father had never developed a means of communicating what was in their hearts.
Still, Bruce yearned for a deeper connection and gently nudged the conversations toward terrain he and his father had never explored together. In diners or on the beaches of Gibson Island, Bruce would reminisce about their lives, about their family and friends, their trips abroad, their time on the water all those years ago.
On one occasion, on the beach outside his parents' home, Bruce broached the subject of the Dalkon Shield. His father had long ago gone silent on the topic, like a D-Day veteran on the subject of Normandy. But Bruce always wondered if Hugh had withheld some secret that could explain the disaster that had brought them such misery.
Hugh simply shook his head. No, there was nothing left to tell.
Bruce realized there also would be no apologies for Hugh's shortcomings as a father. Bruce understood that Hugh was overcome by regret. It was shame that had broken his father - shame for his failure to become the acclaimed innovator he expected to be, shame for his failure to take care of his family.
But Hugh would never make those acknowledgments. Bruce had to do it for him. "I know," he told his father, "that your life hasn't worked out the way you had dreamed it would."
Even then, Bruce was blind to what others could see. His fiancee, Elizabeth Drummond, whom he had met at Columbia, spent a lot of time on the island, and Hugh enjoyed her visits. Probing her about her field, international economics, his intellectual arrogance was still evident. But Elizabeth also perceived something else.
"It was clear in Hugh's face how proud he was of Bruce," says Elizabeth, who married Bruce in 1997. "His eyes lit up when Bruce came into the room."
A risky surgery was scheduled at Hopkins to remove Hugh's pancreas. On his own volition, Hugh starved himself in the days leading up to the surgery to provide doctors maximum space to work within his abdomen. He also ingested great doses of antibiotics to create a sterile environment inside his body.
But the surgery did no good.
He grew weaker, and the pain became excruciating. He was 68 but looked 80. It was a point of pride to stay ambulatory, but finally, he could no longer rise. Jytte created a bed for him on the leather couch in the family room where he could look out on the bay. Once, Rikke popped in to discover her mother dancing to Strauss as her father watched contentedly.
Finally, Hugh could no longer talk or ingest food. And with the sun sinking that golden October afternoon, Bruce took his father's hand. He felt Hugh faintly squeezing back.
"You know, this is going to get you," Bruce told his father, and he saw acknowledgment in Hugh's eyes.
Without knowing that the words were in him, Bruce said what he could not remember either of them ever uttering to the other. "I want you to know I'm proud of you, and I love you."
In the days after the memorial service, Bruce came to the house often after work to check on his mother. One afternoon, as he descended the stairs to the beach, his eyes fell on the canoe his father had given him all those years ago.
The bay was still; not another boat in sight. Bruce dragged the canoe into the water, climbed in and began paddling. He paddled until the strength left his arms, perhaps 45 minutes. Then he stopped and allowed his boat to drift. His let his thoughts do likewise.
He found himself remembering a day long ago on the Wye River. He was a boy, sitting in this canoe, and his father was there behind him. In his mind, he could see his father patiently demonstrating how to draw the paddle through the water. The motion would become as familiar to Bruce as lifting a spoon to his mouth.
Now, the sun was slipping beneath the other side of the island. Soon, he would need to begin paddling back. But in the intimacy of the little canoe, Bruce wasn't aware of anything but the absence of his father.
Pub Date: 10/25/98