So What CAN You Do With a History Major?–Part 58

Fauci

You can lead the country through the coronavirus pandemic just like Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  (OK–he was technically a classics major at the College of the Holy Cross–close enough!).

Here is a taste of a piece on Fauci at the Holy Cross Magazine:

Anthony Stephen Fauci was born in New York City on Christmas Eve 1940, the second of Stephen and Eugenia Fauci’s two children. His parents, both the children of immigrants, met as students at Brooklyn’s New Utrecht High School and married when they were just 18. He grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where his father, a Columbia University educated pharmacist, owned a neighborhood drugstore, at 13th Ave. and 83rd St. The family lived in an apartment above the store, and all pitched in when needed—his father in the back, his mother and older sister, Denise, at the register.

“I was delivering prescriptions from the time I was old enough to ride a bike,” Fauci recalls.

Routinely cited in recent decades for the length of his work day and the peripatetic nature of his job, Fauci took on these habits early and came to them naturally. He was that kind of kid, too.

He grew up surrounded by disparate influences that he seems to have enjoyed and that seem to have benefited him: There was his pharmacist father, known as “Doc” in the neighborhood—whom he describes as “laid back”—and his mother, also college educated, whom he describes as “goal oriented.” There was an attraction to medicine and science fostered from an early age, and a commitment to the humanities nourished by premedical studies at Holy Cross that also encompassed the study of Latin, Greek and philosophy.

And there is early evidence, as well, that Fauci had a streak in him that was something between puckish and perverse—a stubborn adherence to his own values and interests in the face of local prejudice that had to have been fierce. Growing up in post-war Brooklyn, playing baseball in Dyker Heights Park, on Gravesend Bay, in the era of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese, Fauci was a Yankees fan. Among his heroes were Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, which, he says, made him something of a sports outcast among his friends, Brooklyn Dodgers fans all.

If he had been a sports outcast, he was an athletic one. In a 1989 interview with the NIH Historical Office, he remembers, “We used to play basketball from the beginning of basketball season to the end, baseball through the spring and summer, and then basketball and football again in the winter.” When he was younger, he played CYO basketball in the neighborhood; in high school, he captained the basketball team. Today, he’s a daily runner who has completed the New York and Marine Corps marathons.

He attended Regis High School, a Jesuit school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. And the distance he had to travel to get there is difficult to explain, for reasons of time or geography and also for reasons of culture. Time and geography matter, of course, in multiple ways: the trip took 75 to 80 minutes each way, a bus and three subways during rush hour in both directions. By rough calculation, all the time he spent commuting during his four years at Regis, it cost him more than 70 days. And he didn’t just let the time go: then, as now, he was focused and organized. He was the kid on the subway—packed up against the other passengers, elbows against his body, wrists and forearms folded inward, a book almost on top his face, reading—in his case, probably Ignatius Loyola, at some point or other, and likely in Latin.

Time and geography also matter because Brooklyn was further away from Manhattan in the 1940s and 1950s than it is today, and Bensonhurst is deep Brooklyn, just a short three or four miles—a few stops on what was then the BMT Seabeach local line—from Coney Island and the beach. New York is New York, but it’s also five boroughs and a million neighborhoods. And working class, Italian and Jewish Bensonhurst, might as well have been 15 light years away from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, then, as now, one of the country’s most affluent zip codes.

In his commencement address this past May, U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins ’63—whose time at Holy Cross overlapped with Fauci’s, although they didn’t know each other—spoke with some nostalgia of the 10 o’clock dorm curfew of that era, and how students learned to “black out” their rooms with towels, newspapers and tin foil.

“It was behind these drawn shades,” Collins said, “that we indulged in the nefarious act of reading.”

Fauci came to Holy Cross in the fall of 1958. He played intramural sports when he had the time, but his days of more organized competition were over. He had entertained the vague idea that he might make the basketball team as a walk on, but the competition was fierce, and he didn’t quite have the height. Always a fully engaged student, moreover, he took to his premedical studies with gusto; “the nefarious act of reading” didn’t leave him a lot of spare time.

“There was a certain spirit of scholarship up there,” he remembers, “that was not matched in anything that I’d experienced. The idea of seriousness of purpose—I don’t mean nerdish seriousness of purpose—I mean the importance of personal development, scholarly development and the high standard of integrity and principles that became a part of everyday life at Holy Cross. And that, I think, was passed down from the Jesuits and from the lay faculty to the students.”

The premed program covered enough science to get the students into medical school, but also stressed the humanities—a continuation, in some ways, of what he had been taught in high school. Fauci often credits part of his professional success to the inculcation of Jesuit intellectual rigor that was a core part of his education: an emphasis on organization and logic, on succinctness and clarity of expression. Arguably, the twinning of science and the humanities has proved useful in his dual roles as physician and researcher as well.

 Read the entire piece here.

HT: John Schmalzbauer on Facebook.