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In the Spotlight: Onward Soldier to the ISHLT in Washington, DC

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Vincent Valentine, MD
University of Texas Medical Branch
Galveston, TX, USA

The father of America's beloved General Robert E. Lee was Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee. Light Horse Harry delivered the first funeral oration on the death of the American President, George Washington. An excerpt from his eulogy best encapsulates Washington, "...First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life. Pious, just human, temperate, and sincere: uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting..." It should be mentioned he was also first on the dance floor. Above all, he is the "Father of his Country. Born on February 22, 1732, with humble beginnings, Washington had less formal education than Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, who both studied Law. He was shaped by the wilderness, probably more so than Andrew Jackson. However, he transcribed and abided by a set of moral precepts, Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation that remains with us today. Above all, he was first in leadership, dignity, courageousness and honesty.

Arguably George Washington became America's greatest leader and founding CEO. He ran two start-ups, the army and the presidency. Through his agribusiness and real estate portfolio, he became America's richest man. He was the only President elected without opposition. In 1789 and 1793, he was the unanimous choice of the presidential electors. Later, Thomas Jefferson stated it best, "Never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly a great man." By accident, America got a very strong presidency. He was much stronger than most kings of the day, exceeded only by the "Great Autocrat," the Tsar of Russia. It was probably fortunate for America that the self-restraint and common sense of George Washington prevented any display of power in the 1790s. Most of all, Washington set many precedents as President: he chose his presidential advisors (The Cabinet), established the idea of only two terms in office and insisted on not being called, "Your highness," or "Your majesty."

Today, he is alive and thrives with us today from the US quarter to the one dollar bill, from the names of cities, counties, streets and schools to the state of Washington, the Federal City (Washington) and the Washington Monument. George chose the swampy area on the banks of the Potomac River named after him. The idea of this national capital city was largely a political compromise. Today, the residents of Washington, DC have no voting representative in Congress. However, all three branches of the federal government have their headquarters here: the White House, home of the President, the Capitol, where Congress meets and the Supreme Court, the home of America's highest tribunal. Of course, there are the Monuments. George Washington opposed the idea, but America wanted to honor him and by 1884 and $1.3 million later, the gleaming white marble obelisk stands on the Mall halfway between the Capitol and Lincoln Memorial - the Washington Monument. It can be seen from almost anywhere in Washington, DC, standing 585 feet high and at the time it was built, it was the tallest structure on earth. Along its stairs are 192 stone blocks donated by individuals, groups, states and countries bearing an inscription. Greece contributed a marble block from the Parthenon with an inscription that reads: "From the Mother of Ancient Liberty."

This summary cannot be complete without the fact that although Washington chose the site for the White House merely 14 miles from his home (Mount Vernon), drove the first stakes that sited the mansion, personally requested such features as the East Room and the oval drawing room, lived long enough to inspect it in nearly finished form; he was the only President who never lived there.

He died in his home on December 14, 1799, despite the presence of four physicians, blood-letting, counter irritation measures, purgatives, gargling and consideration of a tracheotomy. Just over 215 years later, his cause of death has been debated and included: inflammatory quinsy (peritonsillar abscess), stridular suffocatis (blockage of the throat or larynx), laryngea (inflammation and suppuration of the larynx), cynanche trachealis (dog strangulation), croup, Ludwig's angina, Vincent's angina, diphtheria and streptococcal throat infection to acute pneumonia. The suggestion of acute bacterial epiglottitis seems most likely. Among his last words were, "Doctor, I die hard; but I am not afraid to go." And what's considered his final words, "I am just going. Have me decently buried and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead. Do you understand? 'Tis well." ■

Disclosure Statement: the author has no conflicts of interest to report.

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