It was the mid-1980s, and Marvelous Marvin Hagler was the undisputed middleweight champion of the world. His bald head (a rarity at that time for athletes) was a sight in the ring, gleaming with sweat as he fought with such fury against any challenger. But boxing was no longer the premier sport it had once been, and the middleweight fighters were not as famous as the heavyweights.
Hagler, a child of Brockton, decided, without publicity, that he would like to stop by the Jimmy Fund clinic for children with cancer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where I was a pediatric oncologist. I knew his reputation well, but I was worried the kids would not. And I was particularly disappointed when I saw that this man’s famous bald head was covered with a watch cap as he arrived to talk with the kids made bald by chemotherapy.
The minute he walked into the infusion room where the children were getting treatment, he pulled up a chair next to a young boy and that was when Hagler whipped off his cap. And the visit was on.
He was absolutely and intensely into the kids. They had no need to know about his boxing, since they immediately grasped his kindness. He went from bed to bed, connecting with each child, easing their day.
During the time I worked at the clinic, I witnessed many celebrity visitors who were well known to the kids. While some were his equal, none was better than Hagler at communicating with our cancer patients. I was so sorry to hear of the death of this fine man.
Dr. Holcombe E. Grier
North East, Md.
The writer is a professor emeritus of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and an emeritus staff member at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.