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George Wilding: A Letter to His Father

Former UW Carbone Cancer director George Wilding learned the values of hard work and education from his father.George Wilding, MD, former director of the UW Carbone Cancer Center, remembers his father this Father's Day through a personal letter. Thomas R. Wilding, 90, died January 1, 2009.

Pop,

Since this will be the first Father's Day without you around, I am compelled to reflect on what you meant to me. I am once again reminded of my childhood, and more importantly of the values you instilled in me.

Family
 
Pop, I know your own childhood was modest as you grew up in the shadows of Scranton, Pennsylvania’s coal mining regions. But your fond memories of growing up - playing in the woods, hunting and fishing - long outlasted the reality of growing up very poor.

Your path did not take you into the coal mines as it did for many of your family members. The love of a woman, my mother, brought you to Boston and your career as a longshoreman on the docks.

Hard Work
 
What started out as a part-time job on the docks turned into a career for you when you earned a coveted union card. You worked incredibly hard when the ships came in, working through the night, if you had to.

Ironically, you would not let me work with you on the docks when I was in high school; you thought it was too dangerous. Instead you found a job for me in Chelsea making anchor bolts in a small machine shop owned by our neighbor, Ralphie Carbone. You drove me to work each day and picked me up on the way home, just to make sure I actually went to work and wasn't skipping out to have fun. Actually, do you remember how you wouldn't give me a ride home the first day of work because I was too "dirty and greasy?" You made me walk home.

There are two memories I hold dear from working in that machine shop.

The first is of you, Pop. You were on strike at the docks. To pay the bills, you got a part-time job at Ralphie's, but you quit after one week, insisting they were trying to kill you with the hard work. My feisty, five-foot two Italian mother never let you forget it, reminding you, "You sent GEORGE there to work, but YOU couldn't even last a week."

Secondly, the guys I worked with at that machine shop would ask me, "Are you going to do this for the rest of your life?" No, two summers there taught me a lot. I knew I would not be doing this for the rest of my life.

Education
 
Pop, you always valued education, emphasizing its ability to take my sister and me further in the world. Truly, words of wisdom spoken by a man, who only completed the fourth grade. In a game of "what if," I remember when you told me that if you had a chance to go to college, as I did, that you would have liked to become a doctor.

I know you were proud of me becoming a doctor, but I also know it was hard for you to see my career take me from Boston to Wisconsin. Ma didn’t like it either, but she felt better that I would be working for a Carbone again…this time, Dr. Paul Carbone.

Legacy
 
Pop, your legacy lives on in me every day.

Your willingness to help a relative or a neighbor in need was unparalleled. You may not have had a great deal of wealth, but that did not stop you from helping in any way you could as evidenced by your care and compassion for your own in-laws as they aged. This remarkable care and compassion continued right until the end of their lives.

You instilled a drive and tremendous work ethic in me that guides my every move of leading Wisconsin’s only comprehensive cancer center, the UW Carbone Cancer Center. I know you were dedicated to hard work, as I am. Like you, I believe in honesty and keeping your word.

When I come to work each day at the Cancer Center, I am surrounded by a hard-working team of faculty and staff that I only wish you had a chance to meet. The pride I have in my colleagues is only exceeded by the appreciation I have for the values that you taught me as a young man.

Happy Father's Day, Pop!

George