WASHINGTON — “This has been the best night of my life,” said my big sister, Dr. Min Walsh, while addressing a roomful of friends, family, and colleagues a little before midnight March 19 at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Pretty sure Dr. Walsh was barefoot at the time, having kicked off her shoes while dancing to the live Irish music, and she quickly amended her “best night” ranking, placing Sunday behind her wedding day and the birth days of her kids. But the truth is it was as sweet a night as this dirty old town has ever seen, joyful and special and in a league all its own; a night for the ages for the lot of us who gathered to celebrate one of the brightest lights to ever come out of South Minneapolis. The other truth is that the Washington press corps missed a big story here over the weekend, but not this columnist or his grateful family.
(WARNING: Proud kid brother’s unabashed and unapologetic newspaper nepotism ahead.)
Sunday night at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Mary Norine (Minnow) Walsh was inaugurated as president of the American College of Cardiology. For anyone who grew up with her in the Lynnhurst and Diamond Lake neighborhoods or attended Annunciation Catholic Grade School, Regina High School or the University Of Minnesota with her should know that she has remained the same steadfast beacon of positivity, hope, love and dedication to making the world a better place.
I should know, and here’s where the grateful part comes in: All over Washington, there are plenty of reminders of the fake president that resides part-time in the barricaded White House. But to our big Irish-Catholic family who grew up in this neighborhood on liberal politics and a religion that preaches looking out for the other guy, there was only one presidential inauguration that mattered this year, so a big crew of us — including our parents and all six of their kids — made the trek to D.C. and took a long weekend to savor something good, feel lucky to be alive and celebrate our favorite heart doc.
“Proud” barely does it. President Walsh grew up in South Minneapolis and her interest in medicine started when she began tenderly caring for our family’s first dog, Toasty, who limped around on a bum leg for years after a car accident. Her first gig in medicine was as a candy striper at Eitel Hospital, which led to the University Of Minnesota medical school and practicing emergency medicine at the Hennepin County Medical Center and Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
Madam President currently serves as the medical director of the heart failure and cardiac transplantation programs and as director of nuclear cardiology at St. Vincent Heart Center in Indianapolis and is the program director of the St. Vincent Advanced Heart Failure and Transplantation Fellowship. She spent the last year as vice-president of the ACC and traveled all over the world spreading the good word on health and heart disease.
President Walsh is only the third female president (and first mother) in the history of the nearly 70-year-old ACC, which is only fitting, because she and my sisters and mother were the first feminists I knew, coming of age as we all did during the women’s liberation movement of the ’70s. That Sunday night, she took the opportunity to represent.
“Although nearly half of all internal medicine residents are women, only slightly over 20 percent of cardiology fellows are women,” she told the convocation’s program, the ACC.17 Daily. “Our field is missing out on many talented women who are choosing other fields.”
At the inauguration ceremony, Madam President addressed the hundreds of multi-culti thought leaders and altruistic medical professionals, and reiterated her call to the sisterhood.
“All the women in this room know that we do better with the support of other women, and I have benefitted greatly from the support of many other women in cardiology along the way,” she told a crowd that included her husband Bob and kids, Gil and Hanna. “… A time like this offers one an opportunity to acknowledge and thank those who have helped along the way. I have had many fellow travelers on my journey to this day, people who have encouraged me, shared my vision, guided me when paths diverged and supported my career. I have been a part of many important teams and I would like to acknowledge them tonight. First and foremost is the team I was born into — my parents, my brothers and sisters, my aunt and uncle and some nephews are all here tonight. I owe them many thanks for supporting me in my dream of pursuing medicine from early on in my childhood and sustaining me along the way with loans, food, music and always love.”
Walking the cardiovascular talk, Dr. Walsh is an avid runner and co-organizer of our family’s annual Labor Day 5K. Likewise, beyond her professional smarts, she carries an air of wisdom in all sorts of life matters and remains wise counsel for anyone who asks. Every morning when I sip into my first cup of coffee, I think of my big sister and her rigorous mind, and I’m inspired to make like her, and I know my brothers and sisters feel the same way.
She’s amazing, straight up. Her laugh is one of the best songs I know, and her wonder about the world and her appetite for stories and people make her the best doctor I know. She’s come a long way from being an extremely premature baby born with asthma (“She’s a fighter, don’t underestimate her,” the doc told our parents) to a president who actually lives up to the “presidential” part. Long may she run …
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org