A Tribute To Sam Thatcher, M.D., Ph.D.

A Tribute To Sam Thatcher, M.D., Ph.D.

by Luann Johnson

Perhaps the best description of Sam Thatcher is one paraphrased in his book Making a Baby, co- written with Debra Fulghum Bruce:  “He was a polar bear of a man, … a rumpled Ivy League professor who returned home to start his own practice… (with) a style that was a combination of therapist, detective and scientist.” 

Over the years, Dr. Thatcher cared for hundreds of patients, taught and mentored many students and residents, and worked side by side with fellow doctors, nurses, embryologists, and researchers.   He wrote and edited numerous journal articles for professional and lay publications. Many of you may have had the opportunity to meet him, interview him, hear him speak, or read something he wrote.  If so, you came away with far more knowledge than you had. If you had the privilege of being his patient, you were blessed indeed to benefit from his expertise and caring. 

If you ever once met the man, you certainly never forgot him and you no doubt remember your first impression that probably went something along these lines: 

“Just how tall IS he??” (Six feet, eight inches.)

“I wonder if he ever played professional basket ball?”  (No he did not.)

In fact, he would often answer these two questions before they were asked as a way to ease into a conversation.  He had a way of knowing a person’s thoughts before the thoughts were voiced and he strived to make people comfortable in his presence. He was equally at ease in the presence of college professors, fellow physicians, or folks of our Appalachian mountains, the area he called home. He truly enjoyed and appreciated the people and traditions of our mountains. He once told me that other than instrument-slapping scrub nurses in the operating room, his favorite things were good banjo music and a meal of cornbread and soup beans.   He could be quite a study in contrasts.

Dr. Thatcher had many loves.  First and foremost were his wife, Helen, and his time studying and working in West Virginia, New Haven and Edinburgh.  He loved his garden and his Virginia farmland, his two faithful Airedales, old Jeeps, woodworking and his family genealogy.  Sam loved the music by Goose Creek Symphony, the Dry Branch Fire Squad and of course, his work in the field of reproductive medicine. 

Dr. Thatcher had a unique philosophy in the way he practiced as an RE. The mission statement for his practice was “…To move from infertility to a successful pregnancy as quickly, gently, and cost effectively as possible….” Two primary concerns were keeping treatment affordable for couples and always putting the patient first.  He was always a strong advocate for the patient and believed that good care for the patient translated to good business for the practice.  This philosophy made his office one of the most cost effective fertility centers in the country.

I had the privilege of working with Dr. Thatcher for 13 years as his Patient Advocate and administrative assistant. Some days I laughed, some days I cursed, and some days I cried. But every single day I went to work knowing I would learn much from him as he helped so many women fulfill their dream of becoming mothers.  

 Dr. Thatcher had a favorite saying:  “It’s the right thing to do. “    It did not matter if the “thing” that needed doing was the easiest thing, the most politically correct thing, or the least expensive “thing.”  What mattered was whether or not it was the “right” thing.  People did not always agree with Dr. Thatcher’s definition of just what was the right thing to do, but people always respected him for doing what he believed in his heart to be the right thing.

Our gentle giant will always be with us. The words, the motives and methods with which he practiced medicine remain with those of us who were closest to him and worked with him daily.  As we go forward, saddened in our hearts and with heavy next steps, life, as we know it will be forever changed by his absence in our daily life. However, we will maintain his attitude about patient care, medical responsibility, and integrity … 

…because it is the right thing to do.

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