publication date: May. 15, 2020
The Class of 1983; Remembering Josh Fidler
By Irwin Krakoff and Rosemary Mackey
We moved to Houston together with Rosemary’s daughters, Catharine and Claire, in August of 1983 when Irv accepted the position of head of the Division of Medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Fidler with wife Margaret Kripke, founding chair of Immunology at MD Anderson
We soon began to wonder what we were doing in Texas and how we might survive it. During our first few weeks there we met another recently arrived couple, Josh Fidler and Margaret Kripke, who soon became our best friends… The Class of ‘83 was born!
To seal our friendship, when we married five months after our arrival, our wedding cake, a favorite of Josh’s, was an Italian rum cake and bore their names rather than ours. The story behind that is far too long to tell, but was pure Josh!
We spent many weekends together, vacationed together, shared one another’s triumphs and misfortunes and laughed and cried together. We had regular Sunday suppers with our families and on one such occasion used our assembled collective degrees and brilliance to help our daughter Claire with a science homework, for which she received her only “D” while in high school.
Josh was a major factor in helping the girls adapt to their translocation to Houston from a small town in New Jersey where they had grown up. When Irv found it possible to be out of town for two of Catharine’s Father/Daughter dinner-dances, it was Josh who stood in in loco parentis—even allowing her to drive his beloved Nissan 280Z to one of the events.
The four of us were at a wedding in Austin when we received multiple calls from Philadelphia, where Josh’s son Daniel had invited Catharine to his senior prom. Josh told us that she was in the hospital with appendicitis, but that we shouldn’t worry, because he had called the hospital, told them he was a surgeon (true—although technically just for animals) and that he had authorized them to go ahead with surgery. He was furious when Rosemary laughed, because Catharine had her appendix removed when she was 5. Turned out she had food poisoning and sadly, missed the prom.
Fidler with Kripke, and friends Rosemary Mackey, former MD Anderson director of planning, and Irwin Krakoff, former head of the Division of Medicine.
We all decided to embrace Texas with a vengeance, and this resulted in trips to the Hill country and eventually Big Bend National Park where we enjoyed the superb scenery and rafting.
It was on one of those trips that we had to coax Josh out of the raft on the Mexican side since he was convinced that only setting foot in Mexico would produce serious GI problems. Other pioneering adventures took us from Chihuahua on a train to the Copper Canyon in Mexico (with lots of booze and snacks to ward off any maladies) and to Alaska where we explored the Inside Passage with naturalists in a small ship.
Sometimes Josh and Margaret went further afield without us, which on one occasion had a disastrous result. Josh, on horseback was trying to outrun a zebra while on a safari in Kenya. It was Rosemary who received a call from Pan Am asking that she arrange an ambulance to meet him at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, and she then got him into St. Luke’s Hospital where she was on the staff (now a CHI institution), where he underwent major orthopedic reconstruction of his severely broken leg bones.
Since 1993, when Irv retired from the Anderson and we began our subsequent healthcare-related consulting in Scotland, Mexico and New York, our families have remained intertwined. We always knew there would be a warm welcome when we visited them in Houston with spirited conversation about science, politics, and life in general. Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, vacations—we have done them all.
Irv is soon to be 97, and he finds travel—particularly by air—rather tiring, but in December of last year, we decided to do a day trip on a Saturday from our home in Savannah to Houston to visit Josh and Margaret.
How glad we are that we got to spend several hours together with Josh and Irv talking about past scientific successes and musing about the future of cancer research and treatment, the fields they have both loved and enhanced so much.
It is just one more detail for the memory bank of a man we were privileged to call a dear and very close friend for more than 37 years.
Josh… life won’t be the same without you.
Krakoff is a former head of the Division of Medicine and Mackey is a former Director of Planning at MD Anderson Cancer Center.