Gene Dabezies was my friend and colleague for the last 30 years. I came to know him as well as could anyone outside of his family. He had the most successful life I know of. What made his very long life unique was that he functioned at the highest levels in all the facets of living.
A native of New Orleans where he trained in medicine and then as an orthopedic surgeon, he was recruited to Lubbock by Texas Tech as the chairman of the School of Medicine’s Department of Orthopedics. A surgeon of international renown, he was a leader and mentor of battalions of doctors who in their turn functioned at the highest levels both in practice and in academia. Though he had taken sub-specialty training as a hand surgeon, he was accomplished across the entire panoply of orthopedic surgery. Thousands of patients benefited from his insightful and delicate care. Unlike many of his surgical brethren, he knew his limitations and sought the aid of appropriate consultations when the clinical circumstances so required. In short, he was a great surgeon and teacher who was so recognized by all who came in contact with him.
His personal life was just as successful as his professional. He was married for more than 60 years – to the same woman! He was the devoted father to three children and was equally bonded with his six grandchildren. He delighted in their accomplishments which he proudly related to his friends. But as devoted to his family as he was, he could also cast a cool eye if they erred. The hard driving surgeon of the clinic and operating theater became the warm and loving family team player the instant he crossed the barrier that divided the two spheres of his life. This metamorphosis was unique, in my experience, in a surgeon.
He was also a wonderful friend. He had a wide range of interests. He readily engaged in new activities and was a source of wise advice. It was this latter characteristic that made him virtually unique. In order to achieve the professional success he enjoyed in a demanding profession one has to be very smart, which he was. Superior intelligence is a prerequisite for wisdom, but wisdom is a rare characteristic. He had it in abundance. If you needed sage advice, he was likely to provide it over a range of subjects beyond medicine.
He almost never failed to provide assistance when asked, even if it caused him a lot of extra effort. He had an extended family that went beyond his offspring. They always looked to him for counsel when adversity loomed. But he would also go out of his way to help strangers whose difficulties seemed undeserved. There was a young man who despite graduating near the top of his class from a major university was rejected by all the medical schools he had applied to. He seemed to be the victim of bad luck rather than bad character. Gene counseled him to apply to several schools outside his home state including Gene’s alma mater Tulane. The young man followed all of Gene’s advice and will matriculate at Tulane Medical School in the fall.
This advice was provided when Gene was quite ill and not far from death. Most of his friends were surprised when he died after just a few days into his final hospital stay. He was sick for about the last five years of his life, but bore his afflictions with such grace and dignity that his close friends never realized how ill he was. About 10 days before he died he read the x-rays of one of my family members, made the correct diagnosis, and advised the proper treatment.
Gene was not all probity and seriousness. He seemingly was related to half of the population of New Orleans and loved to hold a bash at Antoine’s which attracted relatives and friends from all over Louisiana, some of whom he hadn’t seen in decades. The lure of endless wine and food at that fine eatery was irresistible. He often said that you had arrived in New Orleans when you had your own priest, your own waiter, and you own judge.
He was also interested in his French lineage. The New Orleans Dabezies had diverged from their Gascon cousins over 150 years ago, but Gene traced the family tree and meet up with his distant cousins in D’Artagnan’s home district. He also assembled and published a family genealogy.
It is common for people to proclaim they want to make a difference in life. Most of us fail in the attempt because making a difference is very hard. Gene succeeded because of his melding of outstanding character, great professional skill, and wisdom.
If you’re not in the entertainment business, sports, or politics your excellence is likely to go unnoticed outside of your professional and personal circles. Thus, Gene’s exceptional qualities are known only to those who came in direct contact with him. He was a great man. I don’t throw that title around lightly. I’ve only known two great men in my own long life.