Metro

Tom Farragher

Renowned pediatrician lends voice to Prouty Garden fight

An old tree is one of the favorite features at the Prouty Garden in Boston Children's Hospital.
Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
An old tree is one of the favorite features at the Prouty Garden in Boston Children's Hospital.

His name fairly jumped out at me when I opened my Globe on Tuesday morning.

His was the first signature on a petition, reproduced in a full-page ad, imploring Boston Children’s Hospital not to bulldoze its spectacular Prouty Garden, a 23,000-square-foot oasis of green, a verdant jewel that could be history within weeks.

His name is Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, and he is nothing less than one of most the preeminent pediatricians of the 20th century. Along with Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose grandchildren Brazelton cared for, he gently instructed America’s parents about how best to care for their babies.

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Simply put, the guy’s a legend, a neonatal expert of international stature.

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President Obama presented him with the nation’s second-highest civilian honor three years ago, the Presidential Citizens Medal. He developed the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale, used worldwide to assess newborns. He’s written nearly 40 books. His TV show won two Emmys. “A towering figure,’’ a former chief executive at Children’s once called him.

So when he invited me to meet with him this week at his office on Boylston Street, at a Children’s Hospital building next to Fenway Park, I was eager to get a bit of personal business out of the way first. We’ll get back to the garden in short order.

For years, I have bored expectant couples with advice to avoid the signature mistake I made with our firstborn. I was so proud of the baby, I rocked him to sleep each night, a decision that I came to regret. Brendan screamed bloody murder each time I put him in the crib unless I stayed within eyesight.

A mistake, right doctor? Brazelton looked at me as if a third eyeball had appeared in the middle of my forehead. He smiled and said: “No! He probably loved it. Aren’t you close to him now? What’s wrong with that? How’d he turn out?’’

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Couldn’t have turned out better, I told him. And Dr. Brazelton, now 97 and still sharp and charming, just nodded approvingly.

This is the kind of advice that Brazelton, who has cared for more than 25,000 children, has been dispensing across six decades. His deceptively simple message to anxious parents: Listen to your babies. They have so much to tell you.

“I’d say don’t worry about making mistakes,’’ he said, a trace of his Texas roots still plainly there in his voice. “You learn more from making mistakes than you learn from success.’’

And speaking of mistakes, Brazelton makes it clear that he believes Children’s will be making a monumental one — one it will come to regret — if it plows under the Prouty Garden to make room for its new clinical building.

“Some children’s ashes have been scattered in that garden,’’ he said. “I think it should be treated as a sacred place. Kids beg to get out there. Kids are isolated in the hospital for a long time and they just want to touch something out in the air that’s natural.’’

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Then he surprised me by saying he had been advised by close colleagues not to speak with me out of fear of retribution. “Everybody’s scared,’’ he said. Even giants like T. Berry Brazelton? “Yes, I am,’’ he said.

Let me pause here for a sincere stipulation that is required whenever you write about Boston Children’s. It is a world-class hospital. Its care is second to none. Its staff performs miracles every day. To walk its halls is to walk among giants of medicine.

All of that doesn’t mean its front office isn’t capable of throwing a sharp elbow.

When I wrote last month about the hospital’s plan to demolish the Prouty Garden, the hospital sent me a terse note, criticizing me for taking “cheap shots.’’ Being the sensitive guy I am, that really hurt my feelings.

After I got my lower lip to stop quivering, I summoned enough courage this week to call the hospital to ask about Dr. Brazelton’s assertion.

“Any suggestion of retribution by the hospital is wholly unfounded,’’ Children’s, which promises to provide alternative green space, replied in a prepared statement.

Good. Can you imagine Children’s Hospital sending the esteemed Dr. Brazelton into the professional equivalent of a timeout?

Talk about the ultimate cheap shot.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.