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Ode to a faithful conference attendee June 8, 2010

Posted by markgeil in People.
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Jacquelin Perry was at the conference I attended last week. The conference dealt with pediatric prosthetics and orthotics, and Dr. Perry’s presence was palpable. She’s a world-renowned physical therapist and orthopedic surgeon, and the second edition of her landmark book on gait analysis was just published. I use her name and describe her theories often in my lectures. And there she was, listening to speakers, asking questions or giving advice, being polite to the younger researchers who wanted to meet her. Except for this one exchange:

Young PT: “Dr. Perry, it’s an honor to meet you. I wanted to talk to you about…”

Dr. Perry: “I can’t stay. I’m going to take a nap.”

See, Jacquelin Perry is 92 years old.

She attended UCLA in the 1930’s, when tuition was only $27. She paid her own way by working as a dishwasher in a lab for 40 cents an hour. After she graduated she joined the Army, trained as a PT and served for five years, then got her MD from UC San Francisco, over five decades ago.  She never slowed down, and her list of accomplishments and awards would fill this site. She was already “Woman of the Year for Medicine in Southern California” by 1959. And here it is, 2010, and she’s still attending conferences.

She gets around pretty well with a walker, no doubt acutely aware of the intricacies of every little movement disorder that slows down her 92 year old frame. Her speech is a bit slurred, but the words nonetheless reveal a still-quite-capable mind. I’ve seen her at meetings before, over the past decade actually, but I’m still always amazed that she would continue to attend sessions to learn more about some new detail in gait or medicine at an age when most of us would dream of our 30th year of retirement.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Jackie Perry still wants to learn. There are several types of learners. The school kid in the required class, fighting off boredom, just wants learn enough to get by. The college student in the elective far outside his major has a curiosity, maybe even a hobby, and he would like to develop it. Jackie Perry and others like her (I think the late John Wooden fits this category) have a passion. She has found a subject which fuels her fire and she wants to continue learning about it, even into her 90’s, because I suppose she couldn’t imagine doing anything better.

So here’s to Jackie Perry, who seems to have enjoyed her life’s work so much that the concept of retirement just doesn’t really make any sense. In May of this year she said, “My life course has profited from several timely opportunities, and I grabbed each one.” I am duly inspired by her example, and can only hope that I maintain an inkling of her desire to keep learning and growing, regardless of age.

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[…] Ode to a faithful conference attendee […]


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