Today would have been my friend Bob's 81st birthday. He died last April, shortly after his 80th. I was asked, by his wife, to write an article for the Hospice Buffalo newsletter memorializing Bob, but also laying the groundwork for a memorial fund in his name. If interested, you can send a tribute gift in his name online here. Here is what I'd written.
Dr. Robert L. Scheig Memorial Fund Honorsby Jim Charlier
Mentor Physician and Advocate
Dr. Robert Scheig, "Dr. Bob" as he was best known, passed away at Hospice this past April. My wife and I have known Bob, and his wife of 26 years, Denise, for about two decades. I knew Bob was a doctor, but beyond his affiliations with UB Medical School, and the VA hospital, I knew little of Bob’s professional life. We met the Scheigs through one of Bob’s many passions – church. Community church dinners, over time, became private dinner parties at each other’s homes.
Bob had many passions of which he shared eagerly. He was an excellent cook. The best meal I ever had was the traditional Chinese dinner he prepared for my birthday two years ago. He made everything from scratch –procuring meats and seafood from far and wide – to get the best and freshest available. It was Bob, so he was able to regale us with stories and photos of his trips to China and share Chinese birthday dinner traditions.
He was the first person we met that had an actual wine cellar and would share his knowledge of wines as easily as he shared treasures from his cellar.
He was an avid reader – devouring books from theological thrillers to murder mysteries, to teen fiction – and we often traded our latest reads. He was an opera buff, a philharmonic and theater fan (and big-time supporter), an active member of the Saturn Club, writer, Pundit Club member, and a very serious barbecuer. We had in common the passions of travel, art collecting, and gardening. He shared his experiences and vast knowledge with us over years of dinners, drinks and parties. I knew Bob socially pretty well and only knew bits and pieces about his long and varied career.
My daughter and I had the pleasure of singing Happy Birthday with Denise and her father, for Bob’s 80th, in the ICU, as he lay in a coma. He died shortly after his birthday, in Hospice, with dignified and loving care – benefiting from the hospice care in which he had been involved over the coarse of his career as a volunteer, advocate, advisor, and finally – as a patient. At the end, he was still in coma, surrounded by family and friends, having one last toast – with a wine of which he would have approved.
Then, Denise asked me to write this tribute and introduce the Dr. Robert Scheig Memorial Fund for Education. Panic!
I knew Bob had attended both Harvard University and Yale Medical School. He served in the Navy. I knew he’d been a Professor of Medicine at UB, and Head of Medicine at Buffalo General Hospital. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. His CV is 15 pages long! It documents more than 50 years of academic and hospital appointments, certifications, society affiliations, honors and awards, committees, community service boards, editorial boards, published medical articles (fun stuff, like Absorption of Dietary Fat: Use of Medium-Chain Triglycerides in Malabsorption), abstracts, papers and more – from Boston, MA to Buffalo. Bob was also a board member of the Connecticut area Hospice from 1975 to 1980 (the first in the nation!). While working with Connecticut’s Hospice, he was involved in organizing one of Dame Cicely Saunders visits (the founder of the modern hospice movement) to Yale New Haven Hospital.
The crux of his career though, was in education – working with future healthcare professionals. Whether through teaching at UB or in charge of resident programs at the various hospitals in which he worked, there were always the students. I know, after his retirement Bob was a member of the UB School of Medicine Admissions Committee, which he enjoyed very, very much.
I talked with Helen Cappuccino, MD, FACS, Assistant Professor, Division of Breast Cancer at Roswell Park Cancer Institute; and Irene Snow, MD, Medical Director of the Buffalo Medical Group. Both were former students of Bob’s. They concur Bob was a consummate professional, had an extraordinary knowledge base, and gave great, and relevant, clinical advice.
Dr. Cappuccino tells me Bob was, "A brilliant educator and could make you come to conclusions in such a way that you thought you came up with the answers – never being preachy." She mentioned she believed Bob helped "…shaped the next generation of students."
Dr. Snow mentioned Bob’s on-point, practical advice led to greater clinical outcomes. Always. Only weeks into her position as Chief of Residents at Buffalo General, she was faced with the dreaded task of telling the intimidating Dr. Scheig that she was pregnant with her first child. She was not expecting the big bear hug and admission that his son and daughter-in-law, in Boston, were expecting his first and only grandchild at the same time. He kept tabs on his daughter-in-law’s progress by gauging Dr. Snow’s pregnancy. Over time, Dr. Snow and Dr. Bob became colleagues, as well as good friends.
Robert A. Milch, MD, FACS, Staff Physician and Medical Director, Emeritus, Hospice Buffalo adds, "Dr. Scheig was my dear friend and colleague who both taught and encouraged countless medical students and inspired his peers with a deep understanding and insight into the human condition. Bob practiced both the art and science of medicine with gifted wisdom. His passion for life and enthusiasm for medicine was equally matched by his interest and search for great wine. His professionalism, strong character, willing counsel and friendship enriched all he encountered. I am most grateful that his legacy will live on through the newly created fund within the Hospice Foundation supporting palliative care education and practice."
Knowing all this about Bob, makes me very proud to introduce the Dr. Robert Scheig Memorial Fund for Education for Hospice Buffalo. The fund is designed to support Hospice Buffalo’s educational programs – speakers, residencies, collaborations, research, public awareness, public policy development, and other end-of life education for those in the medical profession.
I’ve been working with Hospice Buffalo for about twenty years myself – about the same time I met Dr. Bob. I’m in the advertising business and have worked with Hospice Buffalo on marketing projects, from ad campaigns, event invitations, annual reports, logos, fundraising materials to direct marketing, both with advertising agencies in which I worked, and for the last ten years, working on my own. One of the very first things I learned about Hospice was the reluctance of doctors (20 years ago) to recommend hospice care for patients. Not because doctors are not fully behind the kind of care hospice patients receive, but because their extensive training and natural instincts drive them to cure diseases – and to never give up on disease treatments. That has changed a bit over the years, thanks in part to Hospice Buffalo’s laser-like focus on hospice and palliative care educational programming.
Hospice and palliative care is a set of tools for doctors to help patients (and their families) with long-term chronic diseases and debilitating illnesses, adjust to their changing medical needs and allow for a more holistic approach to end-of life care. Only education and awareness will help spread the wealth of hospice and palliative care knowledge that exists. This newly-established education fund will support these efforts.
Denise Scheig insisted Bob’s legacy be related to his role as a medical educator. His former students, residents, and colleagues would expect nothing less. I could not be more proud to have my friend, and a mentor, memorialized within Hospice Buffalo, an organization I care deeply for and has been a significant part of my professional life.
All tribute gifts in Dr. Scheig’s memory will be directed to the Dr. Scheig Education Fund and notification will be sent to his family.