Charles Deur ’71 likes a story told about Martin Luther. When asked, “What would you do if you knew the world was going to end tomorrow?” the reformer replied, “I’d plant a tree.”
“That’s what it’s like when you deal with people who are dying of cancer,” the Arlington, Texas, oncologist said. “I encourage them to try and continue the creative work that is important to them, to try to get the job done.”
Like his father, Dr. Julius Deur ’46, and his great-uncle, Dr. Ted Deur ’33, the third-generation physician views his practice as a ministry. Besides diagnoses and cancer treatment protocols, Deur also offers his patients an open heart. He will do lifestyle and grief counseling with them, and, if they’re open, he said, “I’ll give a testimony of what is my hope.”
His compassionate approach in a medical specialty that trains practitioners to think mechanistically has not gone unnoticed. In January the Arlington Medical Society (AMS) named Deur its 2003 Physician of the Year. The award cited not just his 24 years of leadership at Arlington Memorial Hospital and the local chapter of the American Cancer Society; it also noted his care and sensitivity. “I’d trust him with my own family,” said another AMS physician.
Over two decades of daily experience with grief and loss didn’t prepare him, though, for the devastating losses that came his way in the space of 18 months. Both his mother and his father — his role model, who suffered a long, debilitating bout with Parkinson’s disease — died. Then, in May 2003, two months before their 30th wedding anniversary, his wife, Debra, was killed in a car accident.
“I’d done grief counseling for years,” he said. “But when it’s your own boat you’re paddling, it’s considerably different.”
“To cope I tried several things,” Deur said. The thing that helped most was doing the creative work he’d always counseled patients to do. “I went back to work a week after Debra died,” he said. “It gave me a reason to get up in the morning and put my pants on.”
That’s a model Deur has also seen in his avocational interests — the study of late antiquity and the American Civil War. “Those times are rife with stories of people keeping on under the most stressful of circumstances, and often flourishing.”
Deur wouldn’t say he’s flourishing, exactly. Some days he admits to “feeling like Jonah under the kabob tree — sorely tried by God.” Other days, “You put your right foot forward, then your left foot, and at the end of the day, it’s the end of the day.”
Another way he’s tried to continue the creative work is to give gifts to Calvin’s life sciences program in memory of his parents and wife. Dr. John “Doc” DeVries, for whom the life sciences building is named, “was one of the people who changed my dad’s life,” Deur said. “John DeVries told my dad he could do just about anything, because he was a smart guy, but then he added, ‘You’ve got a personality that really ought to think about medicine.’ My dad took that to heart, even though his dad said, ‘Over my dead body you’ll be a doctor!’”
The gift honoring Debra felt like a natural response, too. An ophthalmologist, she founded Lamp Stand, a clinic that offered comprehensive eye care to the poor of Tarrant County, Texas. “Debra always enjoyed the times we visited Calvin,” Deur said. “She wanted to give students the Christian education she never had.”
Charles Deur is finding there are lots of ways to plant a tree.
Giving to Calvin
Majors & Minors
People at Calvin