Our Colleagues Offer These Thoughts
John Hughes was a very widely respected contributor to the clinical engineering profession and I have a very special place in my heart for him as a very dear friend and as a mentor.
We interacted primarily through our shared enthusiasm for the annual celebration known as the Technical Iconoclast Session, which has been a part of the annual AAMI Annual meeting for many years. And, as my fellow iconoclasts (Eben Kermit, Paul Sherman, Dustin Telford and Marvin Shepherd) know very well, John had a wickedly sly and penetrating wit. He was the consummate iconoclast and enriched every TI session in which he participated.
Rest in peace my good friend - we will long remember you - and if you should happen to meet up with the Rubber Ducky that went missing in action some time ago – pass the word that we will all meet again one day.
I have to laugh to myself for the trust Joel placed in each of us as such young ages. In only a few years, many of us found ourselves presenting keynote speeches on his behalf at national and international scientific and medical sessions, and most of us had little more than a Bachelor's Degree and Dr. Nobel's say-so to back us up. As he sagely told me while calming my jitters before one of my first national debuts, "Just stick to what you know, Elliot, and don't let anyone draw you onto their turf. You know more about that product than anyone else in the nation, so stick to your guns."
I have to admit that Dr. Nobel was never easy to keep up with. He seemed to sleep but a couple of hours a night, and regardless of your medical, engineering, scientific, or legal specialty his habit of endless reading and his sharp, critical mind ensured that everyone needed to bring his or her "A-game" when you talked to him. Holidays and vacations seemed of little interest to him unless tied to a working mission or project, and the concept of retirement seemed unfathomable. Dr. Nobel never, ever sat still, and tracking him down around the globe was a challenge until the end! Not sure most of us would trade our own lives for his, but that was a choice that afforded him the constant cultural and scientific renewal and impact that made him tick.
I still hearken too many of the rules and explanations in that Employee Handbook, even though I've not been an employee at ECRI Institute for 25 years. Pearls like "a non-profit organization is not like most other corporations" as he tried to make it clear to everyone that ECRI's public mission and integrity took precedent over profit or rewards. Firm guidelines about spending funds as frugally as if they were your own personal money regardless of the situation, and incredibly restrictive conflict-of-interest and disclosure rules for each and every employee are today embedded in IRS and FDA guidelines and their peers around the world. I, and the non-profit organizations that I lead strive to live up to those requirements each and every day!
When I talked to Dr. Nobel as recently as last year, he had lost none of his missionary bravado, focus, or acuity, and his global treks were only limited by the wear and tear of travel. No country was too small, and no slice of society was unworthy of his time and attention. Unfortunately, though blessed with a brilliant mind and visionary perspective, his solid, stocky body turned out to be less robust than his intellect. Though I probably had close to a foot of height advantage over him, he was never less than a giant in my mind. I am sure that I won't be the only one to remember him that way, either!
You will certainly read of Dr. Nobel's accomplishments in the future, but I can tell you first hand that most of the accounts will be humble re-telling of a legacy that did -- and will continue to -- improve healthcare around the planet in remarkable and important ways. In the early days, half or more of the medical devices his engineers tested were at best mediocre, and many were a threat to life and/or limb. Today, though, most such testing reveals good-to-excellent products in the US market that are differentiated on features, price, and preference. That is quite an achievement, and it was won one year at a time relying on Dr. Nobel's commitment to "The Discipline of Science." and "The Integrity of Independence." That is the current marketing byline that the ECRI Institute that Joel founded, and it speaks volumes about the organizations ongoing mission.
Personally, few will know of Joel's wry humor and bent towards practical jokes, and few will know just how far he would go to help a younger engineer or physician develop a successful career. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his training, discipline, and visionary leadership, and can honestly help say that Dr. Nobel helped shape my career and life.
There are probably several other hundreds of my peers around the world -- younger and older -- who will have similar recollections and feelings, and I hope they all eventually say their piece. To me, early in my career Joel was like a second father, and leaving him and ECRI to expand my own career was not an easy decision for me to make in 1990, but he knew, too, that it was time for me to move on, and his friendship and support for me and many others proved to be unending. Farewell my dear friend. We will all miss you, but many of us will continue to do our best to honor you courage, vision, and insight. Honor and respect are due. Rest in peace, good Samurai, and soar joyously into the winds and in our memories for eternity.
I have numerous remembrances of John. One that came to me recently was one of our enjoying a beer at AAMI and we were discussing our approach to raising children. John said he had a funny experience with one of his boys. As background, at that time, TV had a morning program for kids that was quite popular and one of the repeated phrases from it was for one kid to blow off a parent’s suggestion by holding up their hand and saying, “Talk to the hand.” Apparently, John was in the process of correcting one son’s infraction when the son raised his hand and said: ”talk to the hand.” John simply closed his fist, placed it near his son’s nose and replied, “Talk to the fist.” John never said if, after that, his authority was less frequently challenged. John was such a pussycat his response broke me up.
Memories can make the passing of a good friend less sad but this still allows John’s energy, humor, and spirit to be sorely missed.
The biomedical profession has lost some of our foundation with Dr. Joel Nobel's passing.
John and I met in the mid-1980’s, and immediately found we shared a passion for this industry. We would speak often about management and leadership topics as well as about family. John became a good friend - one of those that would challenge you when you needed to be challenged, or let you vent when you needed that too. In many ways he was a visionary, pushing early adoption of the CE-IT collaboration and connection with HIMSS. John had a way of boiling things down to simple terms but never talked down to anyone. He drove hard and was well respected for his ability to move the needle. Above all, he was exceptionally proud of his family. While we had a million conversations, probably not one was without a mention of family and how proud he was of his kids. The industry will miss him. I will miss him.
Joel was probably the first real genius I met...though there were unquestionably others on his team (who remembers Guy Knickerbocker?). As it is with so many great geniuses, I soon learned Joel had idiosyncrasies that would forever make him an icon and a legend. Many of my past and current ECRI friends will remember some (or most) of the following:
- always wearing OR "greens" and with his flak jacket serving as an overcoat...He didn't like to go out of the "lab" often and it was probably 2 years when he and I did a speaking engagement together and he was forced to wear a jacket and tie.
- equipping the company Toyota Cressida wagons with survival gear and supplies...complete with machetes
- conducting an interview from under his desk with a flummoxed job candidate (who didn't get the job)
- having telephones installed in the bathroom stalls
- driving around the office campus in his full sized farm tractor
- dropping in on orientation for a new group of technicians to give classic career advice (which though humorous now, I can't repeat)
- hiring a violinist during one holiday period to stroll up and down between our cubicles to play holiday music
- on one holiday giving each member of the staff a smoke alarm and on another, a fire extinguisher (practical gifts which left no doubt as to his concerns for our safety)
I will miss Joel. I will miss the idiosyncrasies that endeared him to us and the genius that inspired us. I loved him for all of it and I will be always be grateful to him for giving us the extended ECRI family...a family whose talent was synergistic and that continues to grow to this day.
Joel...you left this world a much, much better place. Who can aspire to more? Thank you and God speed.
Having started my CE/HTM career outside of the US, I only had the opportunity to meet John in the early 1990’s. Since then, I was highly impressed by his leadership and friendship. He was generous in coaching me in our shared struggles in the profession and always prodded me to come up with better ideas and solutions. His sense of humor was a hallmark of his wit and wisdom. His accomplishments as a leader in this field shall not be forgotten.
I met John nearly 30 years ago and found him to be a wonderful, caring, husband and father to his children. He talked about his family often and we shared child-rearing stories. Joh was very outgoing and friendly to all those he met. He loved to share his knowledge of clinical engineering and frequently would challenge you. A friendly debate would often ensue. We would come to a meeting of minds and go for a beer. I loved his spirit in challenging the norm and offering ideas to improve a situation. In one instance, John and I explore the idea of opening a pub on a sailboat. Sounds crazy, was crazy but we talked about it often and laughed. Since I have retired, I had not seen him much but we occasionally talked or emailed one another. He loved Sedona, AZ and we planned to go there and then he got sick. I miss John and wish that he had more time on this earth for his family and all of us. I shall always remember him and think of him often. Be at peace, my brother.
John will be sorely missed. He was a major contributor to clinical engineering, plus a good friend to have along when you wanted to enjoy some down time.
.I knew John almost entriely through our mutual association with AAMI. We served on many of the same committees together. His thoughtful input was always welcome, as was the work he would do to further the various projects involved with committee work.
What I will remember most about John, however, was how much fun he was to be with after committee meetings. He was always at the center of the conversations when we had the opportunity to get out for an evening. John knew how to have fun and to make sure everyone else was having fun, too.
I got to visit John in hospital two or three times during his last year. While he knew that his prognosis was poor, he never quit fighting, and he never gave up hope.
John was a great husband, father, and clinical engineer. He will be sorely missed.
We will miss John Hughes for his knowledgem experience insight and dry sense of humor. My connection with John was through professional organizations, such as AAMI and ACCE. John was also a co-facilitator for the popular "Technical Iconoclast" session at the annual conference. John was an active recruiter of colleagues and contributor to the discussions on a wide range of topics and issues. John had the uncanny ability to come up with just the right comment or reference, to cause the audience to consider or re-consider their thinking and perhaps be open to another opinion, standard or approach. He was also the master of the "one-liner" reply. Often delivered with his wry smile, a laugh and then... the wisdom was shared with a twinkle. In just a few words, John could create reflection, consideration, instrospection and new horizons that made medical devices safer or service delivery more efficient. John's energy and enthusiasm was contagious and he built relationships among and between different groups of clinical engineering, manufacturers, committee members and regulatory bodies. John's contributions were both deep and wide. He will be missed as a friend and leader.
I’ll follow the many laudatory comments from our colleagues with some personal comments. There’s little I can add to the well deserved professional accolades.
John was very proud of his children, concerned about how they were affected by his illness and appreciated their deeply felt love and attention. Their support meant a great deal to him during his long battle. Having lost their mother, his diagnosis was a great concern – the loss of both parents at this early time in his children’s’ lives. He appreciated every minute he had with each of them and was thrilled to have had a recent “vacation” when all were together. While the children were younger, John managed his work schedule so that he could attend their sports and other activities – his family meant so very much to him.
In our conversations, John indicated his deep religious beliefs. The support he derived from prayers and expressions of support from friends, neighbors, and family meant so very much.
I hope his family’s memories provide some consolation and that over time they will be able to smile at the many good times the family shared. I know that his many professional colleagues and friends have recalled the many shared experiences and conversations.
Emanuel (Manny) Furst.