Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Life Well Lived

Pop 87 William J. Fink, MD

"Pop", my uncle, Dr. Bill Fink (Aunt Shorty's husband), has been given the "final" diagnosis: the prostate cancer, already stage 4, has metastasized into the right lung, spine, joints. He's gone home to die (in accordance with his wishes); the doctors say it could be any time (probably in the next few days). He’s in quite a bit of pain; they’ve got him on the morphine pump.*  (He and I had many laughs about doctors saying “He has some discomfort”, which translated means, “Hurts like Hell!!!”)  I got to see him about a month ago; he was decently sharp for 92, though nothing like he was before. 

He had a remarkable life; a very intelligent man, he graduated from DePauw University with top honours, where he was a Sigma Nu. He was an FBI agent in Washington, DC working for J. Edgar Hoover (he was a "real G-Man"); decided that wasn't for him and went to The George Washington University School of Medicine, where he also graduated with top honours. He became a surgeon for the U. S. Army Air Corps (later USAF) during WWII (the good news: he was stationed in Miami Beach at the Fontainebleau Hotel; the bad news: the Army Air Corps hospital there was the first landing spot for US soldiers/airmen wounded in the Italian sub-theater, and he pretty much worked 24/7). After the war, he went to work for the VA. In the mid-50's, he took the position of Chief of Surgery of the VA Hospital in the tiny Arkansas mountain hamlet of Fayetteville, a position he held until he laid down his scalpel in the 1980's.

His wife Kay was head nurse at Washington Regional; they had 4 boys and a girl. Two of the boys died. He suffered the death of his wife (She passed away from complications resulting from an allergic reaction to the dye used in a common test at the hospital, a heart cath.) AND the death of his best friend, Cal Peeler. Cal was married to Bill's long-time secretary, who happened to be my Aunt Arline (Aunt Shorty).

Arline&Bill2 Arline and Bill having known each other since the early 1960’s, and both of them being lonely, started to hang out together, dated, fell in love, married and have been so for almost 20 years.  (And Aunt Shorty, if you see this and complain about the picture, perhaps you shouldn’t clown so when people try to take one of you! ;-)



Chicago_Cubs_ch68_largeA lifelong, die-hard Cubs fan (he grew up one block from Wrigley Field), Pop was in the stands at Wrigley for Game 3 of the 1932 World Series (he attended all games of that Series), when Babe Ruth called his shot to Center Field (Pop maintains that Ruth was “speaking” to the Cubs’ center fielder, with whom he had been “jawing”350px-Ruth1932-1 all day.  Pop, of course, never forgave Ruth as the Yankees swept   his beloved Cubbies; when I saw him last month and asked him how he was, he indicated that it was a good day because the Yankees had lost the day before. He had no love for the Cardinals, either....). (BTW, the next batter up in that 1932 game was Lou Gehrig, who also hit a homer). Pop may have been a Cubs fan, but he would watch baseball any time, any place, and at any level. Little League to Major League, made no difference to him.

IMG_0774He loved the times we were able to take him to Baum Stadium; though he had no affiliation with the UofA, he loved the Razorbacks and followed them avidly.



IMG_1040Pop loved dogs. When the last one, the cocker/beagle mix, died, I thought we were going to have to shoot Pop and bury him in the back yard.  He was always patient when I (and my friends) brought dogs to his house.

He also loved the stock market; he tracked all his investments daily, but he loved piddling with penny stocks too. He was a Reagan Republican (look at the picture of the 4 of them below; on the wall behind him is the picture he got for “significant contributions to the Republican Party, inscribed to him personally by GWB), and he and I had some really great high old political debates, which Aunt Shorty just detested. She'd put her hands over her ears and storm out whenever Pop and I got started. We both loved it. We both agreed on the religious right's affiliation with the Republican Party (Pop didn't like 'em; he was all about fiscal conservatism and didn't give a damn about religious issues. He was a staunch proponent of abortion on demand, which certainly set him at odds with his fellows).

He was also very, very proud of his longtime membership in, and leadership of, the Fayetteville Exchange Club. He went to Exchange meetings until they took his car away.

IMG_0905 (2)Pop loved cars, and the faster and more luxurious, the  better. He had a string of Imperials, then Cadillacs, then Acuras, then Lexus's. His last car, amazingly, was a Prius---but maybe not so amazing, because he loved gadgets and tinkering (I think that's what he really liked about surgery, he could open people up and tinker with their insides and make them work again). He always subscribed to Motor Trend and Car and Driver and Automobile and Road and Track, always went to the Auto Show, and the last time I saw him he was mad as hell because they'd taken his Prius away from him (he was, at that point, a menace to himself and others).

That Prius. Let’s just say Pop wasn't broke, but he loved the Prius because of the gas mileage. It wasn't that he couldn't afford the gas, he just liked it because it was so cheap to drive. He was fascinated by the Prius when it was announced; he was at the Fayetteville Auto Show and they had one. He had a brand-new Lexus and a brand-new scooter-equipped Toyota Sienna (loaded), but he was at the show anyway. He asked the salesman how hard it was to get one; the salesman told him, "Well, this one's for sale, the guy on the waiting list backed out", and Pop whipped out his checkbook and wrote the guy a check (to Shorty's consternation). He then left the brand-new Lexus sitting in the parking lot and drove his new toy home.

He would drive the Prius over to the McDonalds on Crossover and Mission every morning and be sitting there waiting for them to open, BECAUSE THEY GAVE HIM FREE COFFEE BECAUSE HE WAS A SENIOR CITIZEN (their marketing worked, though, because he also had a fruit parfait every morning). Everybody at the McDonald's knew Dr. Fink by name.

Pop loved it when we came to visit and go Razorbacking. If his hip hadn't been so bad, he would have been out there with us at every tailgate (saying, in full grouch mode, "I don't know why on earth you people want to have a party outside in a damn tent when there are perfectly good houses and restaurants with which to do so."). He loved meeting all my friends and was always after me to "bring a bunch home with you when you come".


He had a great laugh; we loved to make him laugh because it was so infectious. He'd throw his head back and let 'er rip: HAAAA ha ha ha ha!!!  He loved The Catfish Hole and was on first-name terms with the owner; we never waited on line. He loved going there with as many of my friends as I could arrange; the time he told Jeremiah about Babe Ruth (and Jeremiah sitting there wide-eyed), Pop was loving every minute of it.

He mixed a mean cocktail. Where do you think I learned?


He was as persnickety as I am about the English language, correcting people in that clipped "Chicaago" accent of his. One which I inherited from him: you do not tell a dog, "Lay down". It is "Lie down!" "Go lie down, Lucy!"

I can't say how many journal articles he wrote; I know he published at least one book (long out of print) on the fine points of a particular surgery (damn, wish I knew these things).


He was a damn fine doctor.  Ask any of the thousands of patients he saved.


They broke the mold on that WWII crowd. When Pop is gone, we will have Aunt Shorty (90), Dad (85), and Mother (83). Mom's not looking good either, but Dad and Aunt Shorty both have bum tickers. I told Dad one time, I have this mental picture of him in his USAAC uniform, Mom with her hair up in that 40's style, both of them riding off into the sunset in a Packard convertible with "In the Mood" playing on the radio.

IMG_2709 (3)

Pop, Mother, Dad, Aunt Shorty, w/ Punkin III 

With Pop, somehow I see him in his lab coat in a big ol’ Imperial, punching it and roaring off in a hemi-inspired cloud of burned rubber and asphalt, heading off to the hospital to save another life.

We’ll miss you, Pop.

Pop 2

William J. Fink, MD

June 24, 1917 – May 24, 2009

*{ADDENDUM:  Pop died at 6:15 am Sunday, May 24, 2009.  Aunt Shorty held him in her arms while he died, and he was surrounded by family.  May he rest in peace, and may Light Perpetual shine upon him.}


  1. Well done. A nice tribute to a life well lived.

  2. I agree with Kathy. That is a lovely tribute.

  3. I found your blog after I googled Pop. Very well written and I love the pictures! Thank you! I love and miss Pop so much. There is one thing I would like to clear up. Neenie (Pop's 1st wife, Kay) did not die of cancer, and she never smoked a day in her life. She passed away from complications resulting from an allergic reaction to the dye used in a common test at the hospital, a heart cath. It was a sudden, unexpected death. I was 8-years-old at the time. Thank you again for the beautiful blog. *hugs*, Mandi (Pop's granddaughter)

  4. Thanks for the correction, Mandi, I fixed it. I barely remember Kay; I remember her as a nice lady, that's about it. I'm always glad to have the record put straight.

    And I miss Pop, too, as you can tell. I had a high regard for him; we got on famously and he was one of the smartest men I've ever met.

  5. Thank you Nick. Thank you so much. i know Pop enjoyed it when you would come visit and I appreciate you taking him to the games and letting him enjoy his life. Everyone is born, everyone dies, it is the "middle" that makes us who we are and Pop had the greatest middle of anyone I know. I am sure going to miss the old pain in my ass. Lori (Pop's favorite granddaughter, sorry Mandi :))