Remembering Edward A. Loniewski, DO, FACOS, FAOAO – 1/13/1932- 1/23/2018
I was given the honor to write a short obituary of my father by Steven Heithoff, DO, FAOAO. At first this seemed to be daunting task since he dedicated his entire professional career towards the advancement of this organization as well as other osteopathic organizations. Yet maybe this was a true blessing because it allowed me to reflect on the message of his life and what he really wanted to pass onto the next generation of osteopathic orthopedic surgeons.
Although I could spit out a litany of accomplishments and titles of organizations he was part of at some point, I think this was already done very nicely by our local and national media outlets. Instead, I believe he would have wanted to leave a message of the importance of three integral components of our profession which need to continue to work selflessly together for the profession to continue not only survive, but to thrive to the next step. Three is a wonderful number because it fits not only his professional, but also his spiritual message very nicely. In fact, it fit so nicely, he had miniature three legged stools specially made and passed these out to everyone he knew to promote this message. He was so passionate about this message that he convinced the Michigan Osteopathic Association to change its magazine name to the Triad to promote this message.
The Funky Stool
He would carry a custom-made stool with this message with him through the halls of national and state meetings to make this point. Carrying this high above his head from meeting room to meeting room as a wonderful prop, yet it led to some speculations. As a young physician, and his eldest child, it was a bit embarrassing when my fellow classmates and friends would ask why my father was so obsessed with this stool and feeling a bit defensive, I would snap back “he has a stool fetish, you have a problem with that?”
So, why would a grown man carry a beat up funky looking wooden stool around with him all the time? This stool didn’t fit in a suitcase very well; it was impractical because it was way too small to sit on; and it was beaten up and ugly! The answer is simple… He had a burning, unceasing passion for what this stool represented. Namely the unity of the three most important parts of our profession and his life.
The Parts of the Three-Legged Stool
A stool is only as good as the legs which support the platform. Back in the late 1980’s our osteopathic profession had some challenges to grow and serve the public. New schools were being formed, and they required quality clinical training programs in osteopathic hospitals as well as the osteopathic physicians and surgeons to participate in this educational process. There was a mandatory symbiotic relationship between the hospitals, universities and individual practicing physicians. If one part of this organism became parasitic, the entire organism died. My father clearly understood this relationship, and he set out on an evangelical mission of sorts to exhort the cooperation of the three key components of the osteopathic profession which included:
He would hold up the stool and stare at it lovingly. He admired the perfect symmetry which allowed this stool to be functional. Each leg of the stool had to be the same length, strength and must be bound to the other two legs or the stool would become totally dysfunctional. He would point to each leg and then point to a person in the crowd who represented each leg and explain how important they are to the profession. He appealed to their sense of importance, but challenged each leg that they were only as important as the other two legs. If they did not cooperate with the other two legs, their own leg would be useless. One leg could not be more important than the other. One leg could not speak poorly of the other leg or refuse to cooperate with any of the other legs otherwise, nobody could step on the stool to raise them to another higher level. One leg could not say I am not going to help support our profession and leave it up to the other two legs. If this happens, the stool tilts and everything on the top of the stool falls to the floor. It is only when all three legs of the stool work in perfect, unselfish unity that it lifts the profession to the next level. He also reminded each of us that it is only when we do the job we were made to do, that we can also take that “step up” in our lives.
Experienced Legs of the Stool
He had the experience and connection with each leg of the stool to make this work. He understood the practicing physician as an orthopedic surgeon operating at Botsford Hospital in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He understood the importance of the practicing physician in the education of residents and students where he founded the Botsford orthopedic program and personally educated hundreds of students, interns and residents. He also sat on the Michigan Osteopathic College Foundation and worked tirelessly to form the first publicly funded osteopathic university. He understood the position of the hospitals as a board member of Botsford General Hospital from nearly the day the doors opened and continued to be on the board till the final year of his death. In addition, he was president of his county, and state organization, as well as leadership roles in the AOAO, ACOS and the AOA. Thus, he was uniquely qualified to speak from all three legs of the stool unlike many other leaders who may have had a bias to make their leg grow grotesquely larger. He firmly believed that not one part of his vast experience as a practicing physician, educator, or administrator was more important than the other. They all had to work in perfect harmony just like the mind, body and spirit must work in seamless synchrony and unity.
The Three Legs of the Stool and the Holy Trinity
My father was more than an administrator, physician and educator, he lived as a child of God just as all of us are called to be. This may seem a bit pretentious and politically incorrect to mention, but this is an undeniable truth about his life. Thus, we can’t ignore a self-evident truth otherwise this would be telling a lie about his life. He never missed Sunday Mass, and he never missed an opportunity to say, “God Bless You” in a caring tone to anyone. It was not a simple knee-jerk reaction, but rather a true heart-felt reminder that we are all blessed to be in existence together. Our existence is granted by only one single unifying force providing us the grace to exist together. He was never ashamed to remind you to share in this grace.
It is no irony that the Catholic faith he loved also has the Holy Trinity as its basic tenant just like our profession has three integrated and inseparable components of the triad. It goes to show you that whatever you think about, expands and becomes a self-evident truth brought forth through your actions being in-line with your beliefs. Just as the Holy Trinity gave him the strength to face adversity from his very humble beginnings in a tenement building in the heart of Jersey City, NJ, please let his evangelical message of the holy triad of hospitals, universities and physicians give us the strength to build a future together as a great health care profession.
God bless you Edward A. Loniewski, DO. Your friends and family miss you, but will always remember your passion for unity in your life and in your profession.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family respectfully asks for donations to the Edward A. Loniewski Merit Scholarship Fund through the American Osteopathic Foundation at: https://aof.org/give. Please enter in the designation section that you prefer this donated to the Edward A. Loniewski Merit Scholarship Fund.