Maria Stack Kinsella
St. Louis, MO (Winter 2018)
|Iris, Modern Maturity Magazine, From the article “Love in Blooms,”
by Eliot Tozer. Volume 32 Number 5. October-November 1989
Dr. Currier McEwen forgot about growing old. No invasion of senior moments were permitted to cross his mind. He was committed to his own intuitiveness and enjoyed the ride of his life to its destination amidst multi-colored blooming beauties.
I knew Dr. McEwen as a student when he was the nationally-recognized dean of New York University Bellevue Medical School. As a house officer, I crossed paths with Dr. McEwen again in caring for patients on the wards at Bellevue Hospital. He had been recognized as an outstanding rheumatologist and was my mentor in caring of many patients with rheumatoid arthritis and gout. His sage advice aided many needy patients.
Before the advent of steroids, aspirin and colchicine were first-line treatments for these maladies and old friends to Dr. McEwen. He had used them in his medical practice and then carried them with him into retirement, bridging a gap in the field of botany.
Dr. McEwen loved botany and in his later years was interested in gardening, especially in irises, a summer beauty found in a multitude of colors and species such as Siberian, Japanese, and Bearded kinds. When he retired to South Harpswell Neck, Maine, his fame as a rheumatologist followed him and he continued to be a consulting physician for people with ailing joints, but also had a large field of flowering irises under cultivation in a nearby field.
Colchicine comes from meadow saffron bulbs, and he had learned at a medical convention in Chicago that one could double the number of chromosomes in a blossom by injecting it with a solution of colchicine. Although he had prescribed colchicine tablets for years, he had never realized that a solution of the drug could induce tetraploidy in plants. Dr. McEwen had started hybridizing his “Field of Dreams” in 1956. When he retired from medicine entirely in 1988, he devoted all his efforts to gardening. The quest for his “Holy Grail” was a pure white iris. His avocation greatly pleased him, although never achieved his end point, a pure white iris blossom.
In his endless search he produced new hybrid irises and named them. The superb floral creations drew crowds and raves, and his medical expertise enabled his improved arthritis patients to walk well enough to see and appreciate his new creations. From two entirely different aspects, Dr. McEwen enhanced the planet on which he lived and left it far better than when he found it ninety-four years earlier.
He remained active – always searching and following his investigative bents in both of his fields of endeavor. He would say, “It’s a wonderful life!” and his secret credo was, “Always stay busy, do what you love, and love what you do.”
Dr. McEwen practiced what he preached. Colchicine helped him “hop from medicine to botany,” and fully enjoy a color-filled retirement. Dr. McEwen literally played “hop-scotch” in life, and in the process benefited humans in so many ways!
MARIA STACK KINSELLA, BS, MD, developed a deep respect for Dr. Currier McEwen as a medical student at New York University where he was dean. Being a house staff officer later on the Bellevue Service, their paths again crossed when he frequently was an attending physician on her assigned wards. She had two fellowships before moving to the Midwest, and was a physician for the St. Louis City Health Department for thirty years.