A Tribute to My Dad – Sam Bacon

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Samuel K. Bacon
Samuel Kenneth Bacon, MD, FACS

It’s the third Sunday in June 2014.  Father’s Day is here.  I’ve been thinking a lot about my father and how much he is missed.

He was my inspiration in so many ways, and still is.

He was my inspiration for my lifelong unquenchable thirst for knowledge.  He was so smart. I mean really brilliant. He was an internationally respected surgeon who brought the “retropubic prostatectomy” to the United States. He taught me to love to read – even well into the night, to research deeply, and to find out the answers for myself, not just to rely on others or just because other people said so.

He was my inspiration as a human being. His father died when he was nine years old. By age 11, he had to take on great responsibility in the home, caring for his younger brother while his mother worked as a nurse, sometimes gone for long stretches.  He grew up fast.  But this caring attitude and sense of responsibility took him into the medical field to kindly care for so many patients, routinely providing charity care for those that could not pay.

Sam and Ed Bacon
Sam and Ed Bacon

In his personal life, he cared for his younger brother and paid for his college and medical training. He cared for our family, his children and grandchildren, and for his mother, until her death. He sent grandsons on church missions, as well as other people’s sons, even though he was not particularly religious himself, and he left my mother well-cared for after he passed away for the 19 remaining years of her life.

He was my inspirational instructor in economics. Everything I ever needed to know about balancing a budget I learned from my dad. He put me to work in his medical office and taught me how to post the income and expenses in the long pale green ledger book. With a pencil. “Never use a pen,” he said, “so you can correct it if you need to.” That was before computers and spell check. The adding machine was the bane of my existence back then. It all had to add up exactly right and when I had to run the numbers more than twice, my patience ran thin. But his simple philosophy reminds me of Dave Ramsey when my father told me years ago, “Don’t spend more than you earn. If you have to go into debt, get out quickly. Pay cash. Save 10% and give 10% to the church.”

He made things so simple. If only our government leaders would follow my father’s advice today.

Speaking of which, my father was also my inspiration in political philosophy. He was involved and vocal. As a surgeon, he spoke of the dangers of government intrusion back in the ancient days of the 1950s. Samuel Kenneth Bacon, MD was chief of staff at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, adjunct professor of urological surgery at USC and a member of the California State Board of Medical Examiners. He was president of Hollywood Rotary and the Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Politically, both of my parents were active members of the California Republican Assembly (the group that endorsed Ronald Reagan and launched his presidential bid) and the Los Feliz Republican Club. Many fundraisers were held at our beautiful Hollywood Hills home with that breathtaking view of the city below. The good guys of Hollywood then – Jimmy Stewart and Charlton Heston and others – came to our home for fabulous parties. The Bacon’s were among the movers and shapers of Hollywood business and conservative politics.

While sitting in the den watching the TV together, my father would comment on the Hollywood stars. “You know, Judy Garland is a drug addict. See how she is holding her arm there? Needle tracks.” He could see them? What a dad. As Chief of Staff at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, he apparently got the inside information from that closely-knit Hollywood medical community involved in some of these serious cases that she was out of control. Sure enough, not long after, she was found dead as the result of an overdose.

When the news was on, we got dad’s side commentary throughout, a habit that I inherited, to the chagrin of those who sit around me watching Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly (Thank goodness for TVO and the pause button.) “Jack Paar – he’s on the Left – horrible!” “Steve Allen- good guy – very conservative!” He would comment on the McCarthy hearings and how he actually personally knew some of the Hollywood Left being investigated for un-American activities. They were part of the same Hollywood business scene where he mingled.

Sam Bacon - EuropeHe talked about Ronald Reagan and how as president of the Screen Actors Guild, Reagan was getting ready to resign and enter politics because of the radical Leftist infiltration in the media. He and my mother helped Reagan get started in politics with a now-famous speech to the California Medical Association on the dangers of socialized medicine. The year was 1961. In July 1965, my father walked through the door, pale-white and distraught.

“What’s wrong, Dad?” I asked.

“Today is the first day of the end of quality delivery of medicine in America,” he said.

Medicare had passed. MEDICARE! Back then it was socialized medicine. We’ve had socialized medicine since 1965 and even many Republicans think it’s wonderful today. What Republican Congressman today speaks of Medicare as socialized medicine and would phase it out? Can you count them on one hand?

But I’ve never forgotten those prophetic words and his perspective then. My father really DID know best. He knew the delivery of medicine would decline, and it did. And now nearly half a century later, we see how incrementally we have crept toward an extreme form of socialized medicine – universal health care, not just for the elderly – until we finally got the end result of what my father dreaded: “ObamaCare.” How I wish that doctors today could have this historical perspective. Yes, technology has advanced the quality of medicine, but the delivery of that medicine is deplorable, and it will continue to decline. There’s just not enough money to go around to give everyone “free” medicine without making it worse for all.

Sam Bacon - Surgical Procedure on a TurkeyMy dad inspired me to be a passionate, high achiever and to pursue my talents.  Not only was he a great surgeon on his human patients, we loved to gather around at Thanksgiving and watch the annual ritual of the perfect surgery Dad performed on the unfortunate bird, slicing across the grain just right.  He kept his desk, closet and clothing neat, he was a meticulous dresser.  He was a man of many talents and loves – especially of music.  He blasted it at high decibels that shook the large living room in the new “quadrophonic” sound.  He was an accomplished sax player who adored great jazz.  They called him a “jazz hound” in high school.

He was my biggest cheerleader. I loved to sing and I sang professionally for many years.   He never missed a performance. While a college student, I performed with a popular group called the Young Ambassadors.  He sat in the audience and cheered me on with his piercingly loud “wolf” whistle (how did he do that, anyway?). So embarrassing, you know. But really, deep-down it made me feel special to know my dad approved. He loved to sit for hours and listen to our music and hear all about the diplomatic meetings we had while traveling and performing for the troops with the Department of Defense tours during the Viet Nam conflict.  Because of my dad and his Hollywood recording industry connections, we recorded a demo in a studio with his friend Bobby Engemann, who was producing for Hanna-Barbera at the time. Bobby invited us to be the trio for the cartoon series Josie and the Pussycats.  Nancy and I (stupidly) declined because we wanted to return to BYU to finish school.  LeeAndra, ever the visionary, saw a future for us in Hollywood.  It was a tough decision.  I secretly believe my dad was disappointed.  I know LeeAndra was.  Looking back, I am too.  But, back to BYU it was.

1970 - LeeAndra Marsh Lowe, Cherilyn Bacon Eagar, Nancy Startup Schultz
1970 – LeeAndra Marsh Lowe, Cherilyn Bacon Eagar, Nancy Startup Schultz

One night, my father decided to walk from the office to the new Holiday Inn hotel that had a revolving restaurant at the top. In the center of that revolving room, he stood with one leg up on the stage listening to a singer that reminded him of me. Suddenly his leg was caught between the outer revolving part of the restaurant and the stationary railing he was leaning on around the center stage where the band was performing. When he called for help, no one knew how to stop the restaurant from revolving, and the muscles and tissue of my father’s upper thigh were severely damaged. Finally they cut the power and reversed it, and my dad laid in shock on the floor. They asked if he wanted some whiskey for the pain. He said, “No thanks, I don’t drink,” and HE gave THEM medical emergency instructions for how to handle his shock and trauma.

In 1975, not only had Medicare complicated our office procedures and started increasing the cost of medicine, ambulance chasers got in the mix to have their hey day with making a buck off doctors. Doctor’s had to start carrying enormously high malpractice insurance policies, again creating a new form of defensive medicine with the consequence of added increased costs and bureaucracy. For doctors nearing their retirement such as my father, the changes were more than challenging and stressful. They threatened their very livelihoods. My father’s blood pressure shot up. A computer glitch with his insurance company bumped him out of the computer, and he could not perform any surgery, the source of his income, for several months. His health dramatically declined while waiting.

The Saturday’s Warrior Story

And then it happened. Only a week before I opened as the female lead in a popular musical theatre production in Utah called Saturday’s Warrior, I got the phone call from my mother . “It’s about your father,” she started.

It wasn’t good. He was in the hospital, and she asked me to pray for him. “Should I get on a plane?” I asked. “No,” mom said in her typically understated way, “They’re just doing some tests.”

What they didn’t tell me is that my all-knowing father lay in the hospital bed reading his own charts and EKG’s knowing he was in big trouble. He asked my mother to bring the will and other important documents. Not a good sign.

Cherilyn Bacon Gulbrandsen, Saturday's Warrior 1975
Cherilyn Bacon Gulbrandsen, Saturday’s Warrior 1975

I was doing this musical theatre production of Saturday’s Warrior for my dad.   It eventually developed a cult following, completely sold out for months in Utah. (For those who know this show, I played “Julie.”) We knew Patti Youkstetter/Heather Young (Patti York, today) who had moved to L.A. and landed a role in a TV series, Land of the Giants.  She had been in our home.  Her effervescent personality was endearing.  My dad adored her and loved to hear her sing.   I went to see a performance of Saturday’s Warrior featuring so many of our friends, including Patti who played the role of Julie.

I knew if I could get my dad to that show, it would have a positive impact on him.   I got tickets and invited him on a daddy-daughter date to the Forest Lawn Memorial Theater.  I was getting ready in our Hollywood Hills home and anxiously wondering if he would ever show up.  It was getting late, if we were to get there on time, and I prayed his hospital commitments wouldn’t keep him from going.

Suddenly, at the last possible minute, I heard his T-bird pull up along our circular drive below and my heart skipped.  He didn’t stand me up!  Out the door we went and dashed off.  We had a real father-daughter connection during that performance.  In fact, when the character Jimmy Flinders finally returned to the family, I heard him sniffle.  I turned and there were tears rolling down his face.

Oh. Wow.  He’s feeling something.

All our good family friends were on stage, quite a web of connections – the Engemanns, Karl and Gerri and their daughters Shawn and Shannon and son Paul, and of course Patti, who was adorable.  My dad had been a part of the Engemann’s lives in a real and personal way.  Years ago, my sister Chyleen had dated a young man from Inglewood, Bobby Engemann, and they were serious.  My dad was concerned that his daughter might end up marrying a struggling musician, and so he helped him serve a mission.  Karl Engemann was a producer with Warner Brothers.  When Bobby returned he attended BYU and met Jim Pike, who was singing with Tony Butala in a group called The Lettermen.

One of my dad’s best friends was Glenn Wallichs, president of Capitol Records.  Through my dad’s connection, The Lettermen were acquired at Capitol and they went on to produce Gold and Platinum selling records.  Karl later became VP of Artists and Repertoire.

My mother Dorothy was friends with Alice King Rey, of the King Sisters and the King Family fame.  Enter Lex deAzevedo, her son who also produced at Capitol.  These were the people on stage that my parents knew and loved, directed by my sister-in-law Doris Rasband Bacon’s roommate and bridesmaid, Dawn Webb.

On the way home, I asked my dad what he thought.  In his understated and formal way he said, “If one were to believe that philosophy, one would truly live a happy life.”  He was referring to the LDS belief of the eternal nature of the family – that we knew each other before we came to this earth and that we would continue our family relationships after we depart into the next life.

I was biting my tongue but the words in my mind were held back.  What should I say? Dad, can’t you see…we ARE living a happy life because this is what we believe!  Instead all I could muster was a short affirmation, “Well, dad, it’s true.”

I kept all the rest inside that wanted to explode like a volcano, and I promised myself that one day he’d see me performing in that show – in that role that Patti played: Julie.  As a practicing Mormon, it was my hope that one day he would become a member and that we could be united as an eternal family.

Within a couple of months, I was back in Utah where my husband was in law school at BYU.  He came home one day and said, “Well. Guess what’s in the paper?” He handed it to me.  There it was: an audition notice for the Utah production of Saturday’s Warrior.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was jumping up and down and screaming.  I prepared, and we prayed that my dream might become a reality.

The auditions brought out hundreds – about 350.  Forty women alone were auditioning for the role Patti played, the role of Julie.  Miraculously, I made the final cut.  Lex deAzevdeo, who wrote the musical score, was there to cast the show, and I knew as the audition progressed that I was getting closer to the target.  A handsome young leading man, Patrick Matevia, and I were paired together.  As we sang the duet “The Circle of Our Love,” it just clicked.  And yes, my prayers were answered, I got the role.  And my quest had begun.

Dad and mom were preparing to come to Utah to join me for the opening the following week.  But that dream was suddenly abruptly interrupted.  And now my dad was in intensive care in a hospital.  I called my aunt, who worked in my father’s medical office.  “Priscilla, could I talk to dad?”  “No, I’m afraid not, honey” she said.  “There’s not a phone in the room.  But don’t you worry.  Everything will be OK – they’re just doing some tests.”

It was a difficult night.  I just want to tell my dad I love him.  

The next morning mom called again. “I think you should get on a plane and come down here as soon as possible,” she said. I knew something was terribly wrong, and within an hour we were on our way, with my 18 month-old son on my lap and my brother Carl Bacon sitting next to me. My life became a blur, and I prayed the entire way while wrestling with the baby bottle to keep little Jimmy from crying.

The air was crisp and clear on that May 1975 afternoon in L.A. The clouds were white and puffy and the sky blue, the calm after the storm had just blown through that I loved about the few smog-less days we had. We parked in the hospital lot and entered the double glass doors that automatically opened for us.   Suddenly a series of flashbacks rushed through my mind.

Memories of my Candy Striper days and the familiar medicinal smell flooded my senses, this place my dad had called his professional home for several decades. We walked the long corridor toward the elevator. I noticed a gathering of familiar faces in the distance – my Uncle DeWitt Paul and his wife Donna, who were serving as the L.A. California mission president for the Mormon church, my aunt and other close friends, Lynn Russon and her husband John.  Why are all these good friends here?

Coronet Debutante Ball
Coronet Debutante Ball 1968

I remembered the time a few years previous when I was on “my dad’s floor,” 2nd West, and working beside the other nurses. I overheard the nurse in charge saying, “Dr. Bacon just called in. He’s on his way. Hurry up! Better get this place in order. Now!” I chuckled to realize that my dad had such a formidable presence. He was known for his perfectionism, especially in surgery. I understand he once threw a pair of surgical utensils across the operating room during a particularly time-sensitive and stressful, life-threatening procedure when the nurse mistakenly handed him the wrong instrument. People don’t understand the terrible kind of pressure surgeons are under when operating on vital organs. I recall my father preparing for his surgeries. His forehead would be cold and would break out in beads of sweat before he would leave the house to go to the hospital. He took it seriously-the kind of doctor you want when your put your life in their hands.

One time at age 15, I went to the hospital for a blood test and the nurse couldn’t find my vein. After about six jabs, I asked if my dad could come down and do it. Now I was breaking out in the sweat and ready to heave my shoes, nearly passing out. He walked in, and in one try he found the vein and we were done. Then he firmly reprimanded the nurses for having put me through the trauma without simply calling him first.

On another morning, I was fixing my school lunch and cut my finger to the bone slicing an apple with a serrated blade. I grabbed a towel to stop the bleeding and ran up the stairs frantically calling “Dad! I need help! I cut my finger!!! It’s bleeeeeeding!!!!” He calmly took a look, put my hand under the bathroom sink faucet to wash off the excess blood, sat me on the edge of the bathtub and began prying open the wound. I can see white. That must be my bone. Oh my gosh, I’m going to faint. “Dad, I feel sick. I think I’m going to throw up.” He smiled and laughed, assuring me I would survive. My dad can do anything. He’s my hero.

My dad was my inspiration in handling crisis. With my mother being a registered nurse and my dad’s logical attitude in the face of emergency, I eventually learned not to panic when I saw blood and how to  stay calm through the crisis. That has been helpful with my own children and all their accidents, large and small. With the “never let a good crisis go to waste” mentality in Washington politics, we need elected officials who have the stamina to stay calm and steady in the fabricated and intentional crises as well as those that just happen to arise at the right moment to further the Left’s goal of more government and centralization of power and control over private enterprise. As our national continues to deteriorate, it helps to remind myself of my dad.

Samuel K BaconMy father was a stern and stoic man with a deep and commanding “Everett Dirkson”-style voice that said, “Don’t mess with Sam Bacon.” He balanced that with his kind and generous heart. His eyes teared up easily and he expressed his passionate feelings openly. With rare exception, he exercised restraint under fire and was the diplomat. After I got my driving permit he took me out to practice. I was so excited to be with my dad. But when I negotiated my first “y” turn and backed up into the brick wall behind us, his foot nearly went through the passenger side floor. He said in controlled panic mode, “Oopsie! Stop!!!!! … Now.“ Then a big pause, and our eyes met. He could see the terror. He melted. “Oh, you’re alright, my dear girl,” he said. Followed by a hug.

He was my inspiration in self-control.  I cannot remember a single time in my life that my father raised his voice at me. He didn’t need to. His presence was commanding enough. He would express his greatest joy with “Hot damn!” and sometimes he said it in Dutch, which tickled me. “Hatfa damma!” My guess is that he learned this from his Dutch friends. My parents had traveled through post-World War II Europe and had made many friends internationally who came to stay at our home. The Bescansons, Fritz and Meinja, from Amsterdam (President of KLM), Albert and Tita Plesman from Italy, and Kay Rogers and her doctor husband from Sydney, Australia.  When he began to have heart trouble, he stopped drinking coffee and alcohol and he stopped smoking – cold turkey.

This was my flashback of colliding memories while walking down the hospital corridor.  As Carl and I neared this familiar gathering standing in front of the hospital elevators, my thoughts became present tense.  My aunt approached me. “He’s gone, Cherilyn, but they kept him in the room upstairs for your arrival.”

What? Wait. I thought they were just doing routine tests. He’s … gone?

My young life with my dad whizzed by and had unexpectedly come to an abrupt end.  I stepped into the elevator and my heart fell to my stomach.  I didn’t even get to say good bye to him. Why didn’t I fly in yesterday? I knew I should have listened to that inner voice.

Carl and I were ushered to his room, and there he lay. Gone, all right, but he was still slightly warm. The deep worry lines on his face had relaxed and were gone. He hadn’t looked so good in a long time. We each had some private moments with him. I leaned down, hugged him, cried and said to him – wherever he was, listening down from somewhere in the room, “Oh Daddy, I didn’t even get to say good bye. Why did you go so soon? I didn’t get to tell you I love you one last time!”

The last photo with my dad.
The last photo with my dad.

I didn’t know my last “daddy-daughter date” with him would be to see Saturday’s Warrior that summer before.  That was Thursday, March 6.  On Monday, March 10 we were sitting in the Wilshire Ward chapel at a funeral service – the last of which was for my oldest brother Ken when I was only six years old.  So many decisions to make.  I was missing the final rehearsals of the show, but grateful for my understudy who was getting some good practice in.

Six days after Dad’s death, and with only one final rehearsal left before opening night. I was back in Utah standing in the wings of the theatre waiting for the show to begin.  Everyone that I cared about was seated in the audience, except one.  My dad.  My heart was in my throat.  I had been doing this show for him.  Now he was not there.  What a cruel trick.  This was not at all fair.

Then the cast gathered in the green room and to my surprise, they dedicated the show to my father’s memory.  I was deeply touched and unable to express my feelings, except for my gratitude for their kindness.  I said a prayer as the orchestration started and the chorus sang, “Who are these children coming down, coming down…” Then I felt this sudden warmth envelop me, and my dad’s presence strongly there with me in the wings.  Chills went from head to toe as I realized he was there with me after all, not just for that opening night as we had planned for weeks, but for whenever he could be there with me throughout the entire run – and for the rest of my life.  He would always be in my heart, and I was comforted. As the words to the song continued to soar, I resolved to be that “Saturday’s Warrior,” and to carry on my father’s legacy where he had left off.

Saturday’s Warrior was that turning point in my life.  Night after night we acted out the struggle of the Flinders family against the social pressures of the day, which have only intensified over the years.  It has an enduring message that lives on.  These are the words that brought me out on that stage in Spanish Fork in that pre-existent scene where I say my temporary and tearful good bye to Todd as he goes down to earth, hoping we will meet again.

Here’s a blast from the past with images of today’s young people who face an increasingly secular world to challenge their faith.

(Lyrics: Doug Stewart; Music: Lex DeAzevedo)

At the end of the show, the cast –  which included my nephew and niece John and Tammy Bacon – surprised our family with a huge bouquet of flowers and a mention of the loss of our dear father.  Our family all stood on stage together, and we were overcome as the audience stood and applauded.  It’s comforting to know that families are eternal and that we will be together again with the people we love.

Yes, I wish my dad could have been there with me that night. I wish that he could have been with my children as they were growing up.  I wish he could see them now. But I have faith that he has, and I know he’s there. Every time I step out on stage – now, in the real world of political activism – it is in his and my mother’s memory, and in honor of the principles they believed in, that I gather my strength, energy and endurance.

Fourteen years later, when I was pregnant with my youngest son Scott, we learned he might have poly-cystic kidney disease, a terminal condition when found before birth, and that he might not survive the first year of life. I lay there on the examination table post-sonogram. Everyone had left the room. This was my father’s specialty. He was internationally known for his definitive work in urology.

I started to pray out loud. Dear God, where is my father when I need him? Please. I need him now. Let him see what is happening here and through the power you give him, let him heal this baby boy inside my body. Dad, are you there? Please help me now!

I went home and called my mother, sobbing the story to her. For the next few weeks I waited anxiously until the doctors felt it was safe to induce the delivery. I continued to pray for help and healing. I do believe in miracles. And this one did come. I felt my father’s presence during that stressful time and on that delivery table.

The baby was rushed to NICU and the reports came in: It was not poly-cystic kidney disease. It was hydro-nephrosis and mega-ureters. If the baby could make it through the next two years without complications, it might self-correct and he might not need surgery at all. Today that boy is about 6 foot 2 and strong and healthy. He’s never had a problem since.

Many years have passed since my father passed on. On May 8, 2010, I stood on stage for my dad. This time it was before the “unruly mob” at the Utah Republican State convention as the first Republican woman to run for U.S. Senate in Utah.  My passion was to fulfill the dream my dad had left this world unfulfilled: Get government out of health care!

With all my heart and soul, I invited the crowd to join me in a Second Reagan Revolution. “Let’s start by defunding and repealing this onerous ObamaCare that has been forced down our throats!” The audience cheered and a member of the press corps told me they had unanimously voted my speech number one of the day.

I knew my father was wolf-whistling down from heaven that day. Who would ever have thought that I would be playing a part out of Saturday’s Warrior 35 years later – but this time for real?

And who could have imagined that 35 years later we would be fighting for religious liberty, and that the Courts would usurp the sovereign authority the U.S. Supreme Court had given to the states to decide the definition of Marriage and to recognize that time-honored truth that every child needs a mom and a dad?

What would my dad – and my mom – think about all of this? What would our ancestors think – who risked everything? And our great-great grandfather who lost his life for religious liberty?

Dad, how can I thank you for what you taught me? You are missed, but you are still in my heart.  The best I can do is to carry on your great legacy in the Saturday of our times. So this – the American Leadership Fund and everything associated with it that I do – is for you.

Happy Father’s Day! 

Dorothy and Sam Bacon
Dorothy and Sam Bacon

P.S. To all the fathers all over the world, your children need you and their mother – both.  So go make it a great day!  Please make our day a great day by donating to the American Leadership Fund today.  Click on the donate tab at the top. Visit the website to learn more.