1915 was a good year. Kiwanis International was founded, the first transcontinental telephone call was made, Rocky Mountain National Park was established, Henry Ford rolled his one millionth car off the assembly line, the Red Sox beat the Phillies in the World Series, and Dr. Chet Bone was born.
In a world of hyperbole we’ve cheapened the meaning of words like “iconic,” “genius,” “awesome,” and “hero,” but now and again someone comes into our lives who leaves us searching for adjectives adequate to describe them. Ernest Hemingway said, “As you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary.” It’s necessary to me, and thanks to Dr. Bone many of us have one living among us. Dr. Bone will turn 100 this March and although his official biography is not only lengthy but also a bit staggering, I’ll leave the list of his accomplishments to the official historians. Besides, he’s much more interesting than numbers and awards.
Chet and his gracious wife Louise will forego any local celebrations of his centennial since they’re wintering in Florida, and we shall let the Floridians do the punch and cookies bit. But that’s no reason that we shouldn’t celebrate anyway. After all, Dr. Bone belongs to us.
For many years the Passavant Hospital Auxiliary would perform what they called the “Follies,” a fun-filled event that raised oogah-boogah bucks for needed medical equipment. Chet has been a regular in the last few of these and although I’ve been blessed to witness many spectacular and moving moments in theatre, nothing matches Chet’s final entrance in the last Follies show. Young Nathan Carls had sold his soul to the devil for the promise of a hit show and at the last moment a heavenly messenger saved him. That was the plot. What the audience saw was this. . . heavy fog filled the JHS auditorium, a blinding spotlight blasted its way through the haze, and four white-tuxedoed figures came walking through the fog. . . Dr. Omar Panella, Dr. Walter Meyer, Dr. Oscar Zink, and the towering form of Dr. Bone. I’ve heard various people over the years attempt to describe what they felt when they saw that scene, and time and again we struggle to find the words equal to the tingling that shot through those crimson seats. It was part awe, a good bit of admiration and respect . . . gratitude and just a whole lot of emotion. We seldom get to see our heroes walking among us. Through the various renditions of the Follies over the years this group, which until last Follies included Dr. Franky Norbury as well, was referred to as “The Old Docs,” but that title hardly encompassed what we felt about these gentlemen.
Chet would always tell me, “You know, Kenneth, I’m really too old to be doing this, but if you think I can do it then I’ll try.” Try, heck. Chet always sang a solo. He’d sing a verse in rehearsal then turn to me and say, “You think maybe a different key would help?” Are you kidding, Chet? You nailed it!
There have no doubt been advances in medical science of which this 100-year-old hero knows very little. Times do change and I assume medicine continues to make progress. But the things that make a doctor trustworthy, the traits that make him memorable, the class he carries with him haven’t not changed a bit since Hippocrates. In fact, although I didn’t know the Greek doctor personally, I’d bet that Chet Bone had a more congenial bedside manner. I’d walk into the Jacksonville Country Club and find Chet, Louise, and David Bone sitting in their usual spot, and Chet would always extend that firm right hand of his. It was nearly impossible to get any information out of him since he was always more interested in the person to whom he was speaking than he was himself. When you are with Chet you have his total attention. Class. The very definition of class.
I turned 65 last November and Chet was on the front row of well-wishers. Before the party broke up Chet rose to his feet and asked if he might say something. He cleared his throat then the audience was treated to a lengthy and humorous poem that he’d memorized years ago. He may not be able to do that now since he was a young 99 then.
My childhood was a bit odd in that while my other little friends would sit glued to the TV sets on Saturday morning watching their favorite cartoons, I was bored. Animated figures never held any charm for me for I wanted live action heroes. Sky King, Zorro, the Lone Ranger. I guess I still do and as long as Chet Bone is around I have one. Happy birthday, Doc.