The Eyes Have It: The Look of a Leader

Elizabeth Rice Grossman
October 24, 2014

The passing of Ben Bradlee, famed editor of the *Washington Post*, leaves me (saddened and alone) in a cinema of the mind, where the radiant light and mechanical sound of a film-in-progress shows Jason Robards (as Bradlee) in “All the President’s Men.”

His look – nothing more than the upward focus of his eyes towards Dustin Hoffman (as Carl Bernstein) – makes his own subsequent words, to one half of this reportorial duo, superfluous: “Get some harder information next time.”

*That* is leadership. It is the combination of charisma, authority and respect, which requires no pulling of rank – Robards’s Bradlee wears no medals or epaulets, though his Gucci loafers are a nice touch – and shouting save a few protestations from the chroniclers of Watergate.

The point is: Leaders speak by virtue of their respective deeds; they only yell at injustice, not at subordinates, who absorb these manic fits of rage with nary a word of complaint.

Call it wisdom or class or manners, or all three, but, in thinking of Ben Bradlee, who was a close friend of John F. Kennedy, I write the following as a form of free association or stream of consciousness regarding leadership.

Specifically, I recall Jimmy Breslin’s article about the surgeons at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, who rushed to treat their mortally wounded president. In that awful tragedy, during those minutes when multiple doctors (and one surgeon in particular) tried to resuscitate their commander-in-chief, to revive his lungs and massage his heart; the entirety of that moment lives, and here I bear witness to the trauma a surgeon sees, as a testament of leadership.

It is a tribute to the doctors and nurses themselves, and a symbol of the simultaneous transference of the president’s spirit unto his wife and the ascension of his soul.

Again, the eyes speak; they are lights of stoicism and resolve. They are unmistakable beneath a thin black veil of Swiss lace. They encapsulate a thousand days of presidential leadership into a single day of grief.

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”

A Human Camera: Images About Context and Sheltered Memories

I am no stranger to the eyes of a grieving widow, as I am one myself; and I am no mere stenographer of what a surgeon sees, as my late husband, Dr. Richard Grossman, has a legacy that shall forever remain visible.

Through his eyes, as blue as the Hawaiian water of the Pacific, Richard’s leadership prevails. Those eyes – the look of an unofficial fraternal order of healers – see pain, and try to stop it; see worry, and try to soothe it; and see hardship, and try to comfort it.

Scores of patients also remember those eyes: They saw that look – *The Look* – that brought them from small towns and big cities to receive Richard’s watchful care; where, because of the physical burns they sustained from flash fires and assorted accidents, Richard’s eyes made them whole – from charred flesh to skin grafts; from disfigurement to beauty.

His eyes are the first things I see in the morning and the last stars I observe at night, where Richard says, “It will be okay.” And so it is.

The only other man with such eyes, a genius I had the pleasure to work for, is George Soros.

Those eyes record the evil of men, the invasion of the SS and the subsequent occupation of the Red Army. Those eyes remember the flag-bedecked boulevards of Budapest, where Hitler’s swastika cast its shadow on old cobblestones, to be followed by the long darkness of Stalin’s hammer and sickle.

This perversion of everything decent – the eyes cannot forget the abyss of tyranny.

The eyes also breed a sense of calm because, when you have seen the worst of history and the depravity of sadists-deputized-as-ministers-of-justice, you have an appreciation of context.

Calmness is a leader’s habit.


More Lessons from my Husband: The Making of a Great Communicator: Acknowledging Your Supporters

Elizabeth Rice Grossman
October 9, 2014

If I have one piece of advice about leadership, and I have many lessons I can share about this subject, it is to be a great communicator.

Rather, it is critical to acknowledge and respond to the very people, who, because of their own modesty and excess deference to authority, do not expect a person of power to notice an otherwise mundane email or a recorded message of thanks.

For, it is not so much what a leader says or writes, as one of the most celebrated icons of popular culture (more about anon) proves, in his monosyllabic answers to paragraph-long letters of praise and entreaties for secret news, it is not the words themselves that matter (though they often do); it is the decency of the reply that everyone will remember.

I give you the example of one Steven P. Jobs, co-founder of Apple and shaman of Silicon Valley. A man, who, on this third anniversary of his death, still inspires consumers to post their condolences beneath the black-and-white photo of this bewhiskered and bespectacled rock star; the Fifth (or Sixth, after Sir George Martin) Beatle – or, from Apple Records to Apple Inc., with more than a little help from many friends.

To further illustrate this man’s legacy, there are pages and sites memorializing the dates and times of Jobs’ emails. Those notes, which range from a one-word (“Yep”) answer about the iPad and its availability at Best Buy, sent on April 25, 2010, to a kind response to “James,” who lost his girlfriend to melanoma and offered Jobs his thanks for encouraging people to become organ donors, a great communicator is present.

Your [sic] most welcome, James. I’m sorry about your girlfriend. Life is fragile.


Sent from my iPad

That last bit of correspondence will always resonate for me because, as the wife of another great man, who was also a great communicator and the recipient of a kidney transplant, life is, indeed, fragile; an ethereal moment in humanity’s concept of time, where we strive for immortality through our individual deeds, so someone may say – so I may tell you – here rests a leader of impeccable character, infinite charity and unconditional love.

That man’s name is Dr. A. Richard Grossman.

Judge him by the lives he saved, and celebrate him through the Foundation that perpetuates his virtues.

Follow his style, too, by recognizing your supporters.

From the Desk of a Great Leader: Missives from a Man of Greatness

The style I write of is, in defiance of the stereotype about doctors-as-scriveners-of-illegible-copy, a collection of elegant cards, eloquent comments and everlasting ideals.

The style is deliberative, appreciative and sincere, a handwritten keepsake – to friends, colleagues and patients – from whose inkwell my husband’s artistry as a surgeon translated itself into precise droplets of blue cursive; the regal line of a slanted “R” and the double sweep of a lowercase “m”, the rhythmic flow of my husband’s signature, in which the words above his name (and the words I remember by heart), encapsulate a great man.

In taking the time to voice his thanks and articulate his thoughts, I always see the goodness of Richard because of what I do not see: No egotism. No self-congratulatory rhetoric. No settling of scores. No malice or disrespect whatsoever.

As a leader, Richard’s dignity abounds.

And, while Steve Jobs’ missives may be as ephemeral as the metaphorical cloud in which they reside, I have something tangible from Richard; pressed upon a material of Biblical and ceremonial lineage: Paper.

I can touch the words, and trace (with my finger) the letters of each sentence.

A great communicator puts it in writing.


A Leader for All Seasons: Resolution in the Face of Illness

Elizabeth Rice Grossman
October 2, 2014

In the course of writing about the importance of legacy, and because it is apple (and Apple) season, allow me to share with you some additional points about the influence an inspiring leader can bequeath to his or her supporters.

With regard to Steve Jobs, a singular personality of charisma, showmanship, excitement (not for nothing did he describe Apple’s devices as “insanely great”) and aesthetic brilliance, his legacy is clear: Create excellent products, period.

His successor, Tim Cook, need not bother himself with the answer to the question, “What would Steve do?” The query is itself not worth considering because, one, Jobs was explicit that that question should not confound his colleagues; and two, while it is futile to think about where he would have placed this button on this or that iPhone, or whether he would have even endorsed the look and feel of items only now being assembled and shipped to consumers worldwide, the people of Apple will forever know how to design goods of unmistakable artistry and engineering genius.

The real legacy of a leader is, instead, a matter of grace and comportment – how, in the midst of private travails and physical pain, that individual speaks with the serenity of a pastor, the calmness of a battlefield commander, and the dignity of a proud citizen of his or her community.

Nowhere is this example more incredible, and nowhere (sadly) is this story so absent from the most frequently cited remarks of one man, than in Steve Jobs’ appearance before the Cupertino, California, City Council on June 7, 2011.

There he introduces his plans for Apple’s new headquarters, the so-called “spaceship,” which will be a 2.8-million-square-feet glass circle that, in Jobs’s words, has “. . . a gorgeous courtyard in the middle, and a lot more. It’s a circle, so it’s curved all the way around. This is not the cheapest way to build something.”

This presentation, unlike Jobs’s famed commencement address at Stanford University, or any number of his theatrical performances on behalf of the debut of some “insanely great” products, is his most poignant and unforgettable display of duty.

It is the summation of his legacy.

With less than four months left to live, his wan body reduced to almost skeletal proportions, covered by the drapery of his loose-fitting “uniform” of black turtleneck, Levi’s 501 jeans, New Balance sneakers and rimless glasses – Jobs speaks fluently and nostalgically of his boyhood, and he enthuses about a future we now know he would never see.

From expressing his memories of the Santa Clara Valley, where apricot orchards once decorated the surrounding greenery with a yellow-orange hue, to his precocious decision to call William “Bill” Redington Hewlett (of Hewlett Packard) and ask for some spare parts to build a frequency counter (which resulted in Hewlett giving the teenager summer work), Jobs tells the council members – he tells us and generations to come – how to lead, with affection to our mentors and grand ambitions for our own pursuits.

That is the hallmark of a leader. This is how a great visionary secures his or her legacy.

In sickness, and in health, a leader describes better days ahead – and moves us forward to “broad, sunlit uplands.”

I know of another such leader. Indeed, I am the wife of that man, who is alive in my thoughts and active in the foundation that will forever bear his name: Dr. A. Richard Grossman.

A Foundation for Greatness: The Preservation and Enhancement of a Leader’s Legacy

The lesson Steve Jobs shows us is the same one my husband’s patients, friends, nurses and fellow surgeons perpetuate: Resolution and charity.

And, like Jobs and his refusal to passively succumb to cancer, Richard’s quiet defiance against renal failure – his focus neither blurred nor blinded by the forces arrayed against him – is why, in part, his legacy is so transcendent.

A healer and innovator to the end, he is his own man.

I applaud Steve Jobs, but I love Richard Grossman.

For, it is that love (for his family, including his many “sons” and “daughters” who are the beneficiaries of his philanthropy) that immortalizes a leader.

Both men are with us still.


The Clothes of a Legacy: The Perpetuation of a Man’s Ideals and an Organization’s Mission

Elizabeth Rice Grossman

In keeping with my interest about the importance of legacy, allow me to share some information about one of the most coveted commodities that hangs in my closet.

This article of clothing is a keepsake and a symbol of integrity; its monetary value, when reduced to the cost of its manufacture and blend of cotton and polyester, is minimal, but its *earned* significance is incalculable.

And, as the custodian on this item, I am just that: A guardian of this white coat, my late husband’s medical coat, making me the curator of a legacy that is very much alive.

For, this coat (with the machine-stitched, cursive lettering that bears the name *A. Richard Grossman*) is beyond the reach of any collector or dandy; it is not another object for carefree dismissal like Jay Gatsby’s assortment of English-made shirts, color-coordinated and stacked like various denominations of foreign currency in an ornate, mahogany cabinet – the sheer linen, thick silk and fine flannel thrown aloft like a billionaire’s play money, descending with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, and monograms of Indian blue.

No, my husband’s coat would never be a celebratory accessory because, like any surgeon of his caliber and reputation, that coat is the result of years of training and decades of walking hospital hallways and entering countless operating rooms; its every frayed thread, rust-colored stain, loose buttons and faded lapels a testament to a person saved and a life restored.

Wearing that coat does not transfer any powers onto some stranger or fellow physician. It is not a talisman between the present and the world to come, nor is it a prop to brandish before trustees and donators. But it is a source of perpetuating a legacy – it is an icon among the Board Members, myself included, of the Dr. Richard Grossman Community Foundation – where my husband’s spirit continues to inspire our charitable work.

I return, therefore, to the point about an *earned* possession. It is the root of creating a legacy because, to have been treated by Richard (he was *my* surgeon, when I began my recovery as a burn survivor; he was Dr. Grossman, in all his humility and compassion, before he became Richard, my beloved husband), is to be a member of a global fraternity of men, women and children harmed by fire and healed by the brilliance of a gifted man.

Lessons in Leadership: What the Wearer Teaches Us

That white coat, when seen emerging from the end of a half-lit corridor, is, for a newly admitted patient or one in the recovery room, a most serene presence.

This experience may mean different things to different people – it may be the luminescent brightness of that coat, which is the inner light of something divine and transcendental – but it means something very specific and unforgettable to me: Not that Dr. Grossman was a demigod, hardly, but a man of peace just the same; that his wisdom, which was *earned* by maintaining his own calm amidst the sensory overload from the back-and-forth of quick commands and the auditory emissions of banks of monitors and machines, enabled him – with the grace of his palm on your shoulder – to let you know you would be okay.

*That* is the touch of a leader. It is something we continue through our own actions.

In that respect, Richard will never cease to show me how a leader acts.

His humanity guides me; his values are immortal because they are the timeless virtues any individual or group cherishes: Honesty, decency, resolution, sympathy, philanthropy . . . and an unyielding commitment to excellence.

Thus, while I would never wear his coat or fill his shoes (literally, I would be unable to walk), I can nonetheless follow in his footsteps.

A great leader shows us the way forward, well before he or she passes; and well after that man or woman departs.


Beverly J. Gilmore 1949-2014

It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that Dr. Richard Grossman Community Foundation acknowledges the sudden passing of our Board member, Beverly J. Gilmore on August 5, 2014. Bev was an amazing woman and very accomplished in her career. She retired as President and CEO of West Hills Hospital, and had a 25-year career in health care leadership. She and her husband Ken traveled extensively, visiting Europe, Alaska, Australia and Africa over the past two years. Bev was an avid runner, and she completed another half marathon just before her death. Her goal was to run a half marathon with each of her 10 grandchildren. Bev was a devoted Dallas Cowboys fan and attended their practices in Oxnard often in the company of her daughter, Amy. She was devoted to her family and to her friends, and will be sorely missed by all who had the good fortune to know her. Rest in Peace Beverly.