“He Took Me Under His Wing”: The Father Figure Who Mentored Aspiring Black Surgeons
As a kid, Vivien Thomas had dreams of being a doctor. He enrolled in college at Tennessee A&I State College, but in 1929, the stock market crashed, and he couldn’t afford to continue. But Thomas was determined to make his dreams a reality, and he got a job working under prominent surgeon, Alfred Blalock. Eventually, Thomas became the Director of Surgical Research Laboratories at Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Thomas was at the forefront of medical breakthroughs. He invented several surgical tools and methods, many of which are still used today. He is most notably credited with identifying a solution for a deadly condition known as “Blue Baby Syndrome” — a congenital heart affliction in babies.
During his over four-decade career at Hopkins, Dr. Thomas passed down the knowledge by training dozens of other aspiring surgeons, particularly Black men, like Fred Gilliam and Jerry Harris.
Fred Gilliam and Jerry Harris at their StoryCorps interview in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Alletta Cooper for StoryCorps.
Many of the men who Dr. Thomas trained had little-to-no formal medical training before they worked for him, including Fred and Jerry.
They came to StoryCorps to remember the time they spent learning and training under Dr. Thomas, and how his mentorship changed their lives.
Dr. Vivien Thomas in his lab. Public Domain.
Dr. Vivien Thomas never received a formal medical degree, but In 1976, he received an honorary degree from Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Thomas died in 1985.
Fred Gilliam started his work with Dr. Thomas shortly after finishing high school. Dr. Thomas encouraged and enabled Fred to continue his higher education. Fred received his Associates degree in Emergency Medical Technology, and he went on to work at the American Red Cross.
Jerry Harris had previously been in nursing school before his time with Dr. Thomas. He honed his skills in pediatric surgery during his time with Dr. Thomas, and later stayed at Johns Hopkins as a coordinator in the School of Medicine. Harris died in 2019.
This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Originally aired July 1st, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Loving — but Leaving — the Military
Retired Colonel Denise Baken enlisted in the Army in 1975 , following in her father’s military footsteps. She’d go on to serve for nearly three decades.
At StoryCorps, Denise told her children, Richard and Christian Yingling, about her military career, and just how closely her father’s service mirrored her own.
Top photo: Denise Baken (center) with her children Christian Yingling (left) and Richard Yingling (right) at their StoryCorps interview in Baltimore, MD on August 23, 2019. By Emilyn Sosa for StoryCorps.
Bottom photo: Denise Baken in uniform as a lieutenant colonel in 1997. Photo courtesy of the Baken/Yingling family.
Originally aired September 21, 2019, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.
Michelle Obama Portraitist Amy Sherald on Her Hustle to Succeed
Baltimore artist Amy Sherald unveiled her rendering of Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery on February 12, 2018.
Sherald likes to warn people that the artist’s path is not for the faint of heart.
In 2004, Sherald was training for a triathlon when she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure. Then, in the fall of 2012, she stopped at Rite Aid on the on the way to her studio. She blacked out and was rushed to the hospital. Her heart functioning had dropped to just 5 percent. She needed a transplant.
At StoryCorps, Sherald told her friend Elise Pepple how her failing heart pushed her to succeed as an artist.
Top photo: Amy Sherald (right) presents her portrait of Michelle Obama to the First Lady. Courtesy of Saul Loeb / Getty Images.
Middle photo: Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.
Bottom photo: Amy Sherald with her friend Elise Pepple. Courtesy of Naomi Blech / StoryCorps.
Darrow Brown and Juan Calvo
Now, a conversation that reminds us how being a father can be about much more than biology.
In 2007, after volunteering to care for infants born to drug-addicted mothers in Baltimore, Juan Calvo knew he wanted to do more. So he and his husband, Darrow Brown, became foster dads. At StoryCorps, they remember the moment they met their first child and talk about the heartbreak and joy of being foster parents.
Two years later, they adopted their, son, Lucas, who is now 7 years old. They continue to open their home to foster children.
Originally aired June 16, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Top Photo: Lucas, Darrow and Juan at their home in 2016. With permission from the Baltimore Sun.
Bottom Photo: From left, Juan, one of Darrow and Juan’s foster children, and Lucas on a post-reunification trip to the Maryland Science Center on May 22, 2016. Courtesy of Darrow Brown and Juan Calvo.
Clarence “Clancy” Haskett and Jerry Collier
This past weekend marked the official opening of the 2016 Major League Baseball season. And while the games now count in the standings, it won’t be until the weather warms up that the competition on the field will really heat up. But in the stands, there is a battle taking place that won’t wait until summer: the fight to be top vendor.
As anyone who has ever been to a baseball game knows, vendors roam the stands offering anything from hot dogs and peanuts, to scorecards and foam fingers. They are in a head-to-head competition with each other to sell the most of whatever product they are assigned, and one of the all-time greats is a man known as “Fancy Clancy.”
As a teenager, Clarence Haskett (pictured at left) began selling soda at Baltimore Orioles games back when they played their home games at Memorial Stadium (the team moved to their current home, Camden Yards, in 1992). Over the years, he worked his way up to the vendor’s most prized offering—beer.
During his 43-year long career, Clancy has used his quickness and his gift of gab to sell more than a million beers to baseball fans—a number we believe makes him Hall of Fame worthy.
Clancy came to StoryCorps with his friend and former coworker, Jerry Collier (pictured together at left), to talk about their work and how he got started.
Clancy’s story is one of 53 work stories featured in our book, Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work.
Originally aired April 8, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Photo of Clancy pouring beer courtesy of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Sports Legends Museums.
Herman Heyn and John Heyn
If you’ve ever visited Fells Point on the Baltimore waterfront, you may have noticed an older man with a telescope.
His name is Herman Heyn, the city’s street corner astronomer.
For decades he’s set up in the same spot, inviting passers-by to peer through his telescope.
At StoryCorps, Herman (left) sat down with his nephew, John (right), to remember how he became a self-proclaimed “star hustler.”
Originally aired August 28, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Photo by Kevin & Sonia McCarthy, courtesy of Herman Heyn.
StoryCorps Legacy: Resurreccion “Sony” Florendo
“Enjoy art, because enjoying art is a part of healing.”
Resurreccion “Sony” Florendo sat down with her husband, Gerardo Florendo, and their son, Luis Florendo, to record this Legacy interview in partnership with Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.
Listen to an excerpt from Resurreccion’s conversation:
Click here to download a PDF transcript of the conversation.
Recorded in December 2015, Resurreccion talks about discovering her love for painting after curating an art exhibit of Philippine masters. At the exhibit, Resurreccion’s friend saw potential in her as an artist and offered to teach her to paint, “I had never painted in my life, but after two lessons, I picked it up and started painting.” Resurreccion was 77 years old at the time, and in the year since she began painting, she has completed over 70 pieces, noting, “I caught up with my age.”
At the end of the excerpt, Resurreccion discusses how breast cancer has kept her from painting but has not affected her creativity, “Sometimes lying down in this hospital bed, I feel like I’m painting the ceiling. I want to paint the ceiling.”
Click here to learn more about Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
Click here to learn more about StoryCorps Legacy.
Disclaimer: All material within the StoryCorps collection is copyrighted by StoryCorps. StoryCorps encourages use of material on this site by educators and students without prior permission, provided appropriate credit is given. This interview has not been fact-checked, and may contain sensitive personal information about living persons.
Thomas Fair and Mytokia Fair
In 1987, Baltimore police officer Mytokia Fair shot and killed her abusive husband.
At the time, Maryland did not allow the use of battered spouse syndrome as part of a criminal defense.
But three years later, the state’s parole board ruled that Mytokia’s actions were the result of her husband’s “repeated physical and psychological abuse” and the governor commuted her sentence.
At StoryCorps, Mytokia sat down with her current husband, Thomas Fair, to talk about the events that led to her arrest.
Originally aired August 8, 2014, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Olivia Fite and Barbara Moore
Barbara Moore spent more than 40 years working as a bricklayer in Baltimore. She helped lay the foundation for some of the city’s most famous landmarks, including Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles play.
When she started, she was only 21 years old and was the first woman to join her local bricklayers union.
Barbara retired in 2013. At StoryCorps, she told her daughter, Olivia Fite (above left), how she first got into the trade.
Originally aired August 1, 2014, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Photo Courtesy of Olivia Fite.
Rick Bounds and Dorothy Biernack
Rick Bounds is a 58-year-old triathlete, with four competitions and a 100-mile bike ride to his credit, but six years ago he was diagnosed with a nonhepatitis liver disease. Rick’s doctors told him that he needed an immediate kidney and liver transplant, and they gave him eight months to live.
Dorothy Biernack’s husband, Marty, had a stroke, and by the time he arrived at the hospital, there was nothing the doctors could do to save him. That is when his family decided to donate his kidneys and liver.
Marty died on July 20, 2007; Rick received his transplant on July 21, 2007.
At StoryCorps, Rick and Dorothy remember Marty.
Originally aired May 17, 2013, on NPR’s Morning Edition.