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Literature and Medicine 20.1 (2001) 1-2
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Samuel Alston Banks
Sam Banks was a mover and shaker for the fledgling field of medical humanities. Before the field took recognizable form, Banks was advocating the curricular consideration of human values in medical education. As chairman of a small group of college and hospital chaplains, medical school deans, and academic physicians whose discussions in the early 1960s paved the way for the emergence of the medical humanities, Sam made a persuasive case for engaging medical students in an explicit consideration of the moral aspects of medical practice and research.
This group was the nucleus of a loose-knit organization that later in the decade evolved into the Society for Health and Human Values. Sam played several seminal leadership roles in the formative years of the Society, and served as its fifth president. In the 1970s, he was a forceful member of the Board of Directors of the Institute on Human Values in Medicine, a grant-funded arm of the Society. The Institute nurtured emerging humanities teaching programs in medical schools and awarded competitive postdoctoral fellowships to faculty in the then rising generation of humanities scholars who were interested in forging further links to medical education.
As the grateful recipient of one of those fellowships, I traveled weekly to Gainesville, Florida, from Sarasota, where I was teaching religious studies and ethics at New College. During a six-month stint at the University of Florida College of Medicine, I learned the ropes from Sam. When, in 1974, a new faculty position opened up there in religion and medicine, he gave me my first job in the medical humanities.
Sam possessed a fine-tuned political sense and an understanding of structures of authority that served the field well and that ultimately led him onto a larger stage. In consultations with skeptical deans and other medical school power brokers in the early days, Sam always seemed to know which levers to pull to get a hearing for the medical humanities. Even after he moved on to college and university presidencies, [End Page 1] he remained active in the Society for Health and Human Values, consulting, advising, making contacts, bringing people together, lending his influence where it could make a difference, for example, as a founding Contributing Editor of Literature and Medicine.
Sam's persuasive powers were legendary. When Sam Banks approached you and took your shoulder in his firm grip, inclined his considerable frame in your direction, tilted his head down until you were truly face-to-face, and lowered his voice to tell you of something that needed doing for the good of the cause, you knew two things: that this was what it meant to be leaned on, and that begging off was not an option.
We who work in the medical humanities are in Sam Banks's debt. Without his energy and commitment and political prowess at a time when ours was what, nearly forty years ago, he called "a groping baby discipline," the medical humanities might never have grown up.
We pay him tribute and honor the memory of his accomplishments.
--Ronald A. Carson
Ronald A. Carson, Harris L. Kempner Distinguished Professor and Director of the Institute for the Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, is the author of articles and essays on interpretive bioethics, problematic theology, and the responsible self in a genetic age. He is currently writing about medicine and the moral imagination.