Doctor’s wisdom to a justice

Robert H. Jackson lived actively, vigorously, despite knowing of his family’s history of heart disease. His father, Will Jackson, died in 1915 at age 52, apparently of heart trouble.

Other members of the Jackson clan had heart problems too. One of his sisters, having “had three quite bad spells with (her) heart” when she was only 34, referred with some fatalism to the possibility of having “a Jackson heart.” Robert Jackson might have had his first heart attack as early as January 1941, when he was 48 years old. His medical care attended to his heart from at least then until the end of his life in 1954.

In 1934, when Robert Jackson was 41 years old, he was appointed to national office for the first time and moved to Washington, D.C. But his extended family and many of his closest friends remained in and around his adult hometown, Jamestown, New York. They were the people who, and Western New York state was the land and region that, Jackson loved — if you’ll excuse a line, he left his heart… So he returned there regularly to visit, at least a few times every year.

And Jackson kept his Jamestown doctor. Dr. Samuel Hurwitz, M.D., was a general practitioner with skills in cardiology. Jackson liked and trusted Dr. Hurwitz and saw him each year. He was attentive to Jackson, prescribing various medicines (bellergal; aminophyllin; nitroglycerin) that Jackson took as needed. They corresponded during periods between Jackson’s Jamestown visits.

In November 1953, Jackson sent word to Dr. Hurwitz, probably by letter, that he needed prescription refills. Hurwitz wrote back, enclosing signed prescriptions, noting “I have omitted the (patient) name and date, which you can put in when ready to fill the Rx’s.”

Dr. Hurwitz also noted his awareness of Jackson’s extrajudicial endeavors, which then included his well-publicized Nov. 2, 1953, keynote speech at the dedication of the American Bar Center at the University of Chicago. “The Jamestown papers follow and report your travels,” Dr. Hurwitz wrote. “All of us applaud your philosophy.”

Dr. Hurwitz closed his November 1953 note to Justice Jackson, written on Thanksgiving Day, with a modest, I think admirable, nod to the role of fortune, and perhaps the role of higher power, in every life:

“On this day anyone should be thankful for all the good he has,

which are none of his doing.”

I hope that your life is filled with good, as mine is — Happy Thanksgiving.

John Q. Barrett is professor of Law, St. John’s University, New York, Elizabeth S. Lenna Fellow, Robert H. Jackson Center, Jamestown, NY