Two weeks ago Wednesday, Arthur and Sheila Prensky had their 38th wedding anniversary. On Thursday, Arthur turned off her respirator.
Arthur and Sheila had no children. They had two dogs, Judith and Sarah, who are long gone.
Arthur was my boss when I was a pediatric neurology social worker and he was Chairman of Pediatric Neurology at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The first time I laid eyes on him, he was screaming and upsetting the entire nurses station claiming that someone had stolen his puppet. One of the nurses finally dug her hands into the enormous junk filled pockets of his white lab coat and found it. He muttered an, “Oh, I’m sorry.” and wandered off. I thought, you have got to be kidding. This is the supposed genius I’m going to be working for?
He was not only a genius, but one of the quirkiest, dearest and kindest men in the world. He was always playing tricks on people. One night while working late, one of the other docs, Ed Dodson, went to the bathroom in their suite of offices and Arthur held the door so that couldn’t get out. Then he let go of the door so that Ed would go flying. Unfortunately, it turned out to be an elderly lady psychiatrist. The good news, she had no major injuries. The bad news: She had no sense of humor. I didn’t say he was always good at his stunts.
My personal favorite was when I had my son Teddy. My Mother ran into Arthur and Sheila at the symphony. I was now living in Washington, D.C. and Mom told them I was in labor at Walter Reed Army Hospital. After I delivered Teddy, everyone was running around the recovery area trying to hook up a phone. Arthur was calling as “General Prensky” to wish me well.
There is never a time when a group of us who worked for Arthur don’t share stories of his kindness, genius or quirkiness. Our spouses and friends who never had the opportunity to work under him are forced to listen to stories for hours. The truth is, those who don’t know him can’t wait to meet him and are never disappointed when they do.
With the passing of his wife, those who loved and learned from Arthur have come out of the woodwork. I was called by Walter Lemann, an adult neurologist in town about Sheila’s impending death. I contacted the “Aussie Boys,” former neurology fellows now 45-65 who came over and studied with the great one. They have called and written.
His colleagues have been out to the house and have called frequently. We are talking to one another to make sure he gets the help he needs to get his house ready for sale and to move.
Frank and I took Arthur out to dinner last night, and although he is very lonely and misses his dear Sheila, he is looking forward to some traveling. He is a white knuckle flier, but still wanted information on how long it takes to get to Australia.
I will never forget when he offered to have my wedding at his house because my Dad was dead. Last night, when he came for dinner, I used the serving try he gave me for my wedding 31 years ago.
When you are a great mentor, as Arthur was and continues to be, you are never alone. Especially when you continue to surprise and delight. Arthur wants me to find someone to help him get rid of the porno on his old computers before they are donated.
Carol Weisman, MSW, CSP, friend of Arthur Prensky