Too often the accomplishments of eminent citizens aren’t recognized until after their deaths. Fortunately, Maine is celebrating the accomplishments of Bernard Lown, a pioneering physician and Nobel Prize winner, while he is still very much alive.
Today, by proclamation from Gov. John Baldacci, has been declared Bernard Lown Day. The bridge connecting Lewiston and Auburn will also be renamed in his honor today.
“It is the hope that … many future generations will see Dr. Lown’s name and will hopefully learn his story and his incredible humanitarian efforts,” the governor said.
Dr. Lown was born in Lithuania and immigrated with his family to Lewiston when he was 13. His father ran Lown Shoe Co., which then opened as Kagan-Lown Shoe Co. in Bangor in the mid-1950s.
Dr. Lown graduated with highest honors from the University of Maine in 1942 before receiving his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University. He joined the Harvard University School of Medicine, where he is a professor emeritus of cardiology.
During his more than 50 years in medicine, he was a pioneer in the research on sudden cardiac death. His innovations include invention of the defibrillator and work on other devices that have saved many lives.
Dr. Lown’s greatest recognition has come outside the field of medicine. In 1960 he co-founded Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group that seeks to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and to address and slow global warming. In 1980 he, along with Soviet physician Yevgeny Chazov, began International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
Comments he made a decade later, when he delivered a keynote address at the University of Maine, still apply today. “In a world of such great jealousies, with millions in utter desperation, nuclearism is a powerful way for nations to intimidate their neighbors and to gain political advantage,” he said. “It’s the ultimate equalizer, the biggest bang for the buck.”
For his work with the international organization, Dr. Lown accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for bringing attention to the threat nuclear weapons pose to global health and the environment.
In awarding the prize, Egil Aarvik, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said: “As it now receives the peace prize, it is in recognition of a constructive work in the cause of peace. But the prize also expresses a hope – a hope for the steady advance of a new way of thinking, so that bridges can be built over the chasms that represent our fear of the future.”
How appropriate then that a bridge in Lewiston will now be called the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge and that Maine honors one of its most distinguished and accomplished residents.