Breeding: A Theory of Relativity

Breeding: def 5. The progeny of one stock or race or strain of animal as deliberately cultivated by man.

One day in the summer of 1985 a patient walked into my office for a first visit to establish care. Actually he was soliciting a second opinion.

At the age of 60,he was suffering from a chronically leaking aortic heart valve that had dilated his heart and several times put him into heart failure. Since he lived on a converted barge in which he frequently plied the North Atlantic, this was not a good lifestyle for his underlying medical condition. For example, he was once taken off his boat by helicopter to be acutely hospitalized while merrily steaming off the coast of France.

He told me that his first love was the sea, that any woman who wanted to be with him would have to subscribe to the idea at the beginning of any potential relationship, and that at present there was in fact, a live-aboard girlfriend who readily accepted being number two on his priority list.

He stated that he was a retried professional gambler, which on further delving through the obfuscation really meant that he was a retired investment banker. In addition he had been a soldier of fortune, had crewed on the 1948 Olympic double scull team, had sustained multiple fractures driving race cars on the international tour, including Le Mans and had also been treated for malaria and dengue fever which he contracted during on a vacation trek in some wild jungle.

His boat was temporarily moored at a local canal where he could not be easily or directly contacted because he abhorred telephones, did not have one on the boat but rather used the public pay phone at the dock. If he was nearby when it rang, he might consider picking it up.

In telling me something I could readily relate to, he told me that because of his former job, he hated telephones so much that he had given them up for good and no longer owned one. As a kindred spirit of the same opinion, I told him that one of my friends subscribed to the theory that the telephone is only good for one of two things: Finding out where to meet later for a date or for breaking off a relationship. He liked that.

He had also given up alcohol after 40 years of serious self inflicted abuse, had stopped his 35 years habit of smoking 3 packs of cigarettes per day, admitted to being treated for manic-depression and often felt suicidal when he was at the nadir of his mood swings.

Given the self admitted psychiatric history, I thought at first he was delusional, a pathological liar or possibly even had multiple personality disorder. I dismissively relegated no credibility to any parts his stories; with the exception that his heart valve truly was diseased enough that it would kill him if he did not get a new one.

After a second office visit, I made a bland inquiry about his last name; Whitney, only to do a rather abrupt about-face on doubting his initial history. He politely said to me:

  • You know: Eli Whitney. The Cotton gin. Mount Whitney. Paine Whitney. The Pan American Corporation. The Whitney Museum.
  • Oh, of course…those Whitneys!
  • Yes, and also remember that we founded Yale University. Furthermore if anyone ever tries to tell you about our relationship with the Vanderbilt’s’, just remind them that those retched upstart nouveau-riche snobs married into us; and despite the way that they proverbially lie about it, it was not the other way around.
  • Well, that was never at the top of my worry list and none of that matters in the fact of your valve having to be fixed. So in that case, why don’t you go see a friend of mine at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, Tim Weld? You know, the brother of William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, of the Weld’s that was one of the first families to graduate from Harvard College? I’m pretty sure the two of you will find you have a lot in common.
  • I’ll have to think about that one. We aren’t related. And for obvious reasons I have no lost love for Harvard. And by the way, yes, your opinion does confirm the first one. I suppose I need a new valve.

Knowing that these two true American blue bloods would probably bond anyway, I gave Dr. Weld a heads-up that Mr. Whitney might show up for a consultation about a valve replacement. Actually finding Dr. Weld proved difficult for my office manager, because “Tim” was his Wasp moniker, but not his real first name. She came back to me after an hour on the phone trying to hunt him down:

  • Why didn’t you tell me his real first name was Francis? In fact his name is Francis Minot Weld, not Tim at all
  • Wow. I didn’t know that. Everyone I know calls him Tim.
  • Well that’s just really dumb.

But weeks, and then a few months went by with no follow up news from either party until one day I received a terse note in the mail from Dr. Weld, along with Mr. Whitney’s enclosed obituary. It said that Mr. Whitney had died at the Maine Medical Center after complications of a failed aortic valve replacement surgery.

Dr. Weld’s note simply read:

  • He should have come here instead.

I thought to myself

  • But if he had, he would have been consulting below his pedigree. You know. Harvard. Weld. Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Not Whitney or Yale. But then again; why choose mongrel Maine?


 Is it true that your relatives came over on the Mayflower?

       No. They weren’t on the Mayflower. They sent those servants over first to get the cottage ready.

(Governor William Weld)

Cotton Gin

It is a melancholy truth that even great men have their poor relations

{Charles Dickens)


Cotton Gin: Taken from The University of Virginia web page:


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