As I began to write this column, I received word Thomas F. Frist Sr., M.D., had passed away at age 87.
For those of you new to the healthcare industry, Dr. Frist was one of the cofounders of Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America, one of the first for-profit hospital companies, now part of Columbia. But more than that he was a great leader, father, grandfather, physician, gentleman and one of the most considerate individuals I have ever known. I was fortunate enough to have been, on occasion, the recipient of his wisdom and thoughtfulness over the past 20 years. Before I learned about Dr. Frist's death, I had intended to write a column on leadership. What better example of an inspirational leader than Dr. Frist Sr. Also, what better example of an individual who put family and others above all else on life's priority scale. He practiced what he preached, reaching out in so many ways. He also was a physician's physician and a throwback to the old-fashioned general practitioner. He was a special friend, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family.
How do I remember Dr. Frist? A few moments really stick out. For instance, a number of years ago I was visiting the HCA headquarters and had met with a number of the company's top executives. Finally, I was ushered in to visit Dr. Frist's son, Thomas F. Frist Jr., M.D., then the company's president. We had a long and candid exchange about the future of the industry and the role of the for-profit sector. Then, as we were saying our goodbyes, along came Dr. Frist Sr., who had been on a three-day trip. As soon as Tommy Jr. saw his dad, his eyes lit up and he greeted him this way, "Dad, it's so good to see you! I just knew something wonderful was going to come out of this day, and here you are." I've always remembered Tommy Jr. saying those words because it impressed me so that a son felt that way about his father. I felt the same way about my dad and knew exactly what Tommy Jr. meant. It's special to see a father and son's love expressed openly and without embarrassment.
Then there was the time Dr. Frist Sr. was inducted into the Health Care Hall of Fame in 1990. At that time he had survived a heart attack, two bypasses, a broken neck, colon cancer and a stroke, but he was still going strong. However, because of the stroke, his speech was somewhat stilted. As he was inducted into the Hall of Fame with all the attendant fanfare, I asked him if he wanted to say a few words. He said he would, but he assured me it would be for only a minute since he had so much trouble articulating his words. His talk lasted for a full 15 minutes, and you could hear a pin drop in the packed hall as he talked about his family, colleagues and friends. As was his way, he attributed any success he had to others.
Another story that comes to mind was an incident during a flight to Nashville a few years back. A good friend of mine was the head of his own advertising agency in Akron, Ohio. He had a major account in the Nashville area and was on his way to make a major presentation. His flight was turned away from the Nashville airport two or three times because of fog. On the final attempt, my friend began to have a heart attack. He was in a great deal of pain, and a flight attendant got on the microphone to ask if there was a physician on board. In a moment a man came to the front of the plane and attended to my friend, who by then was lying in the aisle in great distress. After the plane landed, an ambulance took him to a local hospital with the physician from the plane at his side all the way. That evening, triple-bypass surgery was performed on the agency executive. Days later, as he was recovering, my friend learned that the doctor on the plane had been Dr. Frist Sr. That one act typified his life. He was always ready to serve others.
Finally, there's another legacy Dr. Frist Sr. leaves all of us. It's from a speech he gave in 1970: "It's not mortar and equipment that make a hospital. It's the warmth, compassion and attitude of good employees that lead to quality care."
Goodbye dear friend
Charles S. Lauer