Tribute to My Lilbro George Stephan Hsu, COL
(17 May 1943 – 20 Sep 2015)
It was to be a happy, honeymoon-like trip for Kathy and sister Joyce Bless, this time to be just with their husbands George and Rick to enjoy a romantic visit to Key West Florida in a well deserved celebration of themselves, and of staying together as couple. But on Sunday the 20th September, when they were snorkeling some ways off Key West in eight feet of water watching stunning sea creatures and corals, God gently and silently scooped George up to Heaven. As if lost in a starless night sky, the world darkened around George’s beam, becoming suddenly pitch black for everyone else.
Stunned as if hit by a huge lightning thunderbolt, all became speechless, uncomprehending. People vehemently refused to accept the idea that they no longer have George on call. For here on earth still, each one of us in his or her own way had taken for granted that we would meet and hug and joke and laugh together, sharing our love for many, many long years to come. Dearest God in Heaven, forgive us, we are simply not ready to accept this loss. But we do thank Thee for sparing our George the agony of protracted hospitalization. He left earth during one of the happiest times of his life. Bless you, Happy Georgie, you lucky lad.
To myriad others beyond the Hsu clan, George was their best friend, college schoolmate, football team quarterback or tailback, drinking buddy, fellow prankster, chief story teller, unbeatable mechanic, brilliant physician, respected counselor, most trusted and beloved Captain – Colonel, and Community Leader. No one was ready to let him go, as if one had any say in the matter. Dear God, help us heal.
Our early family history
When he was six, Mother took us three children to America away from China’s Civil War. There we lived with the large and loving family of Stephan Kuttner, Father’s best friend during their Jurisprudence School years in Berlin in the late 1920s. The Hsu children were quickly assimilated into the family, becoming part of the dinner table that pivotal year (1949-1950), where children of the two families fell secretly in love unbeknownst to one another.
When he was twelve, he became a step-uncle to my two young step-sons boys and told them, “Don’t be afraid of your step-mother. She’s only my sister. You don’t have to eat the spinach if you don’t like it.” On our trip to Europe when my baby daughter was found dead in the crib high up in the Alps, it was little George who bent over his infant niece, trying to breathe air into her lifeless body, tears streaming down his agonized face without letup. That was his first encounter with the profound urge to heal, to save, to protect life.
A most caring and insightful gentle man
Nearly thirty years later, in order to protect his own adopted and natural children in a State without public health care, he decided during an outbreak of equine encephalitis in the area, to study Medicine and become a local doctor. Almost forty years old, George was able to enter medical school on an Army grant, becoming the oldest student around.
But his doctor-teachers soon discovered that this Haverford mechanics graduate who designed car-crunching machines for the wide-open countryside, who turned Honda Preludes into super racing cars, who alone appeared in the OR with black fingernails, etc. turned out to be the only man in the cardiac ward to remain cool and calm when they discovered that the bulky pacemaker they were placing in the patient’s gaping cavity was dysfunctional. Sweat poured down the face of doctors and nurses alike as time ticked loudly away.
“Anyone have a screw-driver?” finally came George’s soft voice. And in no time the pacemaker too, began to tick away, in the fortunate patient’s chest. From the beginning, George had excelled at tying good knots with hand in pocket. But when his supervisor suggested he become a heart surgeon, George remarked, “That is a Craft. I wish to become a GP (General Practitioner) for that, Sir, is an Art.”
Eventually George became the most widely respected GP around, and people would drive hundreds of miles to get the opinion of Dr. Hsu. George dedicated his life and skills to medicine out of love of his fellow beings. He refused to prescribe unnecessary medication or order costly lab tests and exams for the many patients in his hard-working but also hard up farming community.
But this was to run squarely against vested interest, not only of private physicians, but of the State whose Board of Medical Examiners comprised of doctors with vested interests. A small group of Bismarck doctors had invested in just such an expensive lab-test service center, and in time came to resent the fact that they were missing out on George’s many patients who did not go for their costly tests and scans. Together they sued the country doctor George Hsu, for “Inappropriate Care” that is, for not doing everything possible for his patients. Our Family had thought nothing of the matter, since each of the city plaintiffs had serious lawsuits against them from mistreated patients whereas George had not a single complaint by any patient in all his more-than-twenty-years’ practice.
But to our dismay, the State of North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners comprising these disgruntled physician-investors, together with the Surgeon General and the State Supreme Court, seemed adamant that Dr Hsu’s Medical License be revoked, and the citizens of North Dakota deprived forever of their favorite country doctor. George’s patients were in shock, and in different areas held fund-raisers to hire a lawyer for George. They wrote to the government and to the newspapers – but all to no avail.
When asked once, “Without taking an MRI, how can you tell if your patient is bleeding in the brain or not?” he replied, “I have known my patients for three generations. You can tell simply by watching them walk.” To George, his patients were like his children. He lived to protect them, to heal them and nurture them, and to share his life and his joy with them. When a patient once let on that he no longer had a particular type of harvester, George drove his own over to that farmer’s ranch the next day. The startled patient found his favorite doc driving up and down in the morning sun working his fields, finishing all his chores by noon. George’s positive, giving nature and contagious good humor brought out the best in all those he met. the best in humanity, and that is Love. Love radiates outward; it is sharing in compassion.
At the funeral, one of George’s nurse practitioners came up the pulpit and told us she had been working with all kinds of doctors on all kinds of jobs for over thirty years. “Never in my entire career have I ever met a doctor who knew more about medicine than George. George cared more for his patients, had such common sense when treating illnesses and wounds. No one was more skilled in diagnostics. He was simply one of a kind, a brilliant, unique man all around. He will be sorely missed.” The legendary Doc Hsu lived in a decaying society during a decadent age. His memorable medical career was sabotaged out of envy and greed, but continues to shine as a beacon of hope for all his patients, his friends and for young medics as an exemplar for the coming Age.
George’s idea of a good life was to be able to devote as much time as possible to the people and activities he loved, in as creative and productive a mode as possible. First came the idea of farming. Farming land that the US Government paid farmers to let lie fallow. He amassed 1500 acres in North Dakota, mostly raising hay for horses and beef cattle. He also planted delicious chokecherries, buffalo berries, plums and currants that he would brew into a heavenly wine. To be sure, he grew the shrubs not only as windbreak, but in particular to entice the scrumptious North Dakota pheasants and grouse who would come to fatten themselves in Autumn, and adorn his dinner table in Winter.
On the farm, George did everything from plowing, sowing to harvesting, cutting and bailing, he was also a masterful fence-builder, agile horse-rider able to make his mount shimmy straight down the vertical side of a steep mountain. All the animals loved him, as do his children, making each their happy sounds whenever he’d come near. George was one of the very few people around who could fix tractors, twenty-ton trucks, highway line-painting machines, racing cars, sowing machines, snow-blowers, food blenders or pacemakers but also produces hay-bales on even square fields, keeps his cattle immunized and healthy, hand-delivering their calves. George was cheerful and helpful to anyone who ever came in need of healing, fixing, repairing, lending or feeding, and became a great friend to the farming families as well as the Sioux Indians miles around. If this sounds too good to be true, George indeed was to all of us not only incredible, but indispensable. He loved being admired – but admiring George was always a natural result of knowing him.
George met Kathy in Medical School when they became a valued team, especially in national emergencies. During the Gulf War when George was called to active duty for the second time after Viet Nam, now to the Middle East, Kathy was summoned as well as Army Nurse, and they left their eight children, their fields and cattle behind in Elgin to run the medical unit in what we the family believed was a chemical warfare zone. Our aged parents from urban Washington DC came over in their high seventies to look after George and Kathy’s virtual orphans, ready to remain indefinitely should the field doctor-and-nurse fail to come back. But these Medics eventually returned home to a Hero’s welcome when all Elgin and neighboring towns came out with flowers and flying banners, creating a memorable day near and far.
As an army doctor in mobile hospital under extreme conditions, or from his quiet clinic in Elgin, North Dakota, George’s priority was always to do the job well. He didn’t care too much for all the formalities and protocol that calcify around institutions as they age, making it hard to distinguish what is more important: to heal or bandage the patient, or to fill out the form. George invariable chose the former, often to the neglect of the latter. For this neglect he was driven out of the medical profession by his peers who felt that failing to fill out all forms was more of a detriment than George’s unusual ability to heal, his pure record of complete trust from all his patients, some who had asked not to be put on tubes and costly equipment. They would rather North Dakota be deprived of one of their best physicians, in order to ensure everyone towed the line and filled out all formal requirements purely administrative in nature.
But this only freed George to turn his attention to his other beloved activities, Mechanics. Together with son Stevie a company was formed to do road-striping, providing the white, yellow, red, solid and broken lines we see on the highways – a rather lucrative job under Union Pay. This does not deprive any patient of their wherewithal, but brought in surprising income, and challenged George’s ingenuity to his great delight. He designed and put together from spare parts by hand, an entire truck-cum-device that mixed and spread paint on the road, and so began happy outdoor days working together with his beloved family. When the State approached him saying they would give him back his license to practice medicine provided he signed a paper admitting to “inadequate care of his patients” and/or paid the Board a fee of $50,000, George gave his wry smile and declined. He refused to cooperate with a world that cared more for protocol than for the practice of medicine.
George did not consider himself to have lost any self, aside from his Colonel’s uniform, to be shifting from a white gown to the proverbial blue collar – because to him all jobs carried out with his whole heart and mind bring satisfaction and joy. And the blue collar he had come to know harbored less hypocrisy or hidden greed. In time he opened up Doc’s Saloon in Glen Ullen that served all his favorite foods and drinks, delighting one and all. When we entered the place the local people immediately recognized us as George’s family; staff from Chef to waitresses came to us to hug us, one after the other each weeping tears of deep personal loss. George had given them the sense of self-worth, had appreciated and admired each of them for their special contributions. Their love for George was no less than that of nurse practitioners.
For George, no one was ever unimportant. He never entertained sentiments like, “Wait, I have something more urgent to do first.” He helped his kids with home-work, his grandchildren with kite-flying or buggy rides. He adopted and reared the children born to his wives from their former marriages, never saying to any child, “You are not of my blood. You are not my family.” He adopted them all, giving them the Hsu name, and cared for them with the same love and pride with which he reared all his own progeny. Later he took in our mother and step-father, caring them for years through their dying days. He took in and gave employment to his nephew, offered permanent shelter to his oldest retired sister and opened his home to his nieces each time any should face homelessness. George helped all who came to him, laughingly solving problems academic, chemical, emotional, financial, mechanical, medical, military or psychological.
In the Armed service, he earned the love of all his men as their platoon leader, captain or colonel, since he cared more about his men than anyone else. Throughout all the years in the Army rising from rank to rank, George never, ever had a gun in the house. He did not believe problems are solved by killing others. He even gave his mind to politics in the hope that this great nation to which he’d dedicated his life energies, would one day rise above mediocrity and fill its potential for genuine world leadership.
To this end, George gave tirelessly to the National Democratic Committee, even trying once for a seat in the State Senate to fight the growing corruption then directly harming ND’s own people. But he never let defeat of any sort dampen his own Spirit. There was always burning inside his heart a huge and compassionate store of love and of service. It is with this selfless spirit that he sailed through his colorful and multilayered life, earning the love of countless people of different persuasions and from all walks of life. He was always there for us. For anyone, actually.
Now George has taken this rare but eternal harvest of universal Love with him to Heaven. For unlike earthly riches or power, Love is what we can take with us. The outpouring of overwhelming love for George we have heard in Church and in the Community Center these past three days will in turn spawn new streams of inspiring and uplifting memories, gratitude and emulation. Although these rare and precious gifts are invisible, they are divine.
Go in Peace, beloved Lilbro, I came to America this month because of your urging, and promise to come and visit. Maybe you had some inkling, Georgie, about playing this last prank to stun the world around you. Before going on this last vacation you’d called up all old friends for long chats and, for once, you’d paid all your bills, ahead of time. You shed your body without a moment’s illness or struggle doing a most enjoyable watersport, sparing your family the draining anguish of protracted hospitalization. What a beautiful and carefree way to live, George, and to die. You are very, very blessed indeed. Let us give thinks to your Guardian Angels who have even made the Funeral Gathering in Elgin, a most Memorable Three-day Family Blast.
Keeping him in their fondest loving memories are his wife, Kathy, Elgin, ND; 4 sons and daughters-in-law, Michael Hsu, in Texas, Stephen and Jody Hsu, Bismarck, ND; Anthony Hsu, Seattle, WA; Charles Hsu, Elgin, ND; 4 daughters and sons-in-law, Theresa Hsu, Elgin, ND; Jennifer and Casey Bettenhausen, Bismarck, ND; Sarah and John Bonvini, Gloucester, Virginia and Barbara Hsu, Mandan, ND; 8 grandchildren, two older sisters, Joan in Nepal, and Katherine in Annapolis, MD; step-mother Nancy Hsu, Seattle, WA; half-brother Alex Hsu and half-sister Barbara Hsu, both married and living in California. There is a still-growing number of nieces and nephews around the world as well as grandchildren to most of whom beloved Uncle George is already Legend.