TROUTMAN: A humble witness

An ode to Dr. William Hubbard


Dr. William Hubbard, MD, died on May 9 in Pittsboro. He was an award-winning pediatrician as well as a professor at his alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill. Having met him in retirement, I was only vaguely aware of his professional accomplishments. I knew my friend, Bill, as a poet.

Once a month at Galloway Ridge, I convene a poetry discussion group with the residents. I typically bring two poems to share, and we dive right in. Bill and his beloved, Jane, were active participants and insightful readers. After several months, Bill shared a few of his poems. Emily Dickinson said that a true poem takes off the top of your head, and I was blown away. His poems were often about the natural world, employing plain language to evoke the beauty around us as a mirror to the beauty within us. Though I was supposedly leading the poetry group, the unassuming Bill was a better writer.

This dynamic that I experienced in the poetry group was similar to a story from Bill’s celebration of life told by his youngest daughter. Her dad, recently named one of the best doctors in the country, accompanied her and her newborn to the first checkups. Bill would sit quietly in the corner, allowing the doctor or nurse practitioner to work. Maybe he had a question or perhaps a suggestion. He never trumpeted his credentials. Bill wore his knowledge graciously.

Humility is a virtue openly maligned by portions of our society where the loudest, pushiest people receive the most attention and praise. Here is something to ponder: could so much of the bluster, preen, and sales pitches be made by people trying to overcompensate for their lack of knowledge or experience? Might it be that those who are truly skilled and credentialed do not need to boast or brag about it? Humility, though often evidenced by quietness, speaks volumes about someone’s character.

One of Bill’s fifteen grandchildren read one of his poems at his celebration of life. It was titled “The Horizon.” Like many of the poets he admired, Bill tackled a grandiose concept through concrete or individual examples, in this case, the idea of the Great Unknown braved by an explorer, such as a mariner or Native American. Though I only heard the poem once, I believe I have the ending right—Bill wrote that “the shroud” of the distant horizon would be replaced by “a face.” This says to me that ultimately, what matters are relationships. With humility, we admit that there is much that we cannot know, yet when you find a person of character, like Bill, you want to know that person as a friend.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church as well as a writer, pizza maker, coffee drinker and student of joy.