Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist Charles Krauthammer Honored at Shepherd Center
Family, friends and staff remembered the late Dr. Krauthammer, a former patient, at a memorial service.
Charles Krauthammer, M.D., the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and national television news commentator who passed away this past June after a battle with recurring cancer, was honored Tuesday, July 24, during a memorial service at Shepherd Center.
Dr. Krauthammer spent eight months at Shepherd Center last year and this year following complications from cancer surgery. A 1972 diving accident left him with a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the neck down.
His stay in Atlanta had a profound effect both on Dr. Krauthammer and the Shepherd Center staff members who treated him.
As he wrote in a letter (see the image on this page or scroll to download a PDF file of the letter) addressed to the “Shepherd Family” less than a month before he died, “How you found a staff… so uniformly skilled, caring, competent and energetic is beyond me. But you did it, and I congratulate you for it.”
The memorial service this week was held before a full house inside the seventh-floor auditorium at Shepherd Center. Speakers included Shepherd Center staff members, as well as members of the Krauthammer and Shepherd families.
Rabbi Alvin Sugarman of Atlanta set the afternoon’s celebratory tone when he said in his opening remarks, “Charles made life a sacred journey, and you here at Shepherd Center have undertaken a sacred journey.”
Shepherd Center co-founder and chairman of the board James Shepherd, whose own spinal cord injury as a young man in 1973 led to the rehabilitation center’s founding, was moved both by Dr. Krauthammer’s professional integrity and personal fortitude.
Dr. Krauthammer was a first-year Harvard University Medical School student when he was paralyzed after diving into a campus pool. He still graduated on time and earned a medical degree.
He left medicine several years later to become a speechwriter for Vice President Walter Mondale. He later became a columnist for the Washington Post, where he won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1987.
Dr. Krauthammer also wrote essays for Time magazine and The New Republic, authored several books, including the 2013 bestseller “Things That Matter,” and was a longtime commentator at Fox News.
At the memorial service on July 24, James Shepherd said of Dr. Krauthammer, “The thing I loved about him, beyond his intellect and his ability for civil discourse and healthy dialogue, was his ability to not define himself by his injury.”
Other Shepherd Center staff members spoke of the impact Dr. Krauthammer had on them when he was a patient.
“There wasn’t a day that he didn’t say, ‘Thank you,’” said Anna Elmers, M.D., the Shepherd Center physician who led Dr. Krauthammer’s treatment team. “The whole experience has been incredibly humbling.”
Shepherd Center physical therapist Sarah Leonard said, “He was relentless in his pursuit of life.”
Dr. Krauthammer’s son, Daniel, echoed his father’s gratitude for the treatment he received at Shepherd Center.
Dr. Krauthammer’s cancer returned this past spring in what he described in his letter as: “a new form of aggressive metastasis. This is a fatal development. There is nothing that I or the Shepherd staff could have done to avert this.”
Dr. Krauthammer died June 21. He was 68.
“Before I found this place [Shepherd], I was at the edge of despair,” Daniel Krauthammer said. “It seemed there was no one and nowhere to turn. I spent the most frantic, stressful and deeply worried weeks of my life talking to every expert I possibly could and flying around the country to try and find the place that could save my father’s life.
“I cannot tell you how thankful I have been every day since for finding this place,” Daniel added.
Learn more about Shepherd Center at shepherd.org.
Written by Drew Jubera and Rosie Judd
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.