• Sharon Johnson

The joy of working with Dr. William (“Bill”) C. Moloney on his memoir, "Pioneering Hematology"

I don’t make it a habit to fall in love with my clients. But with Dr. Moloney, I made an exception.

I was introduced to Dr. Moloney by my neighbors, Frank and Betsy Bunn. Frank took over from Dr. Moloney as Chief of Hematology at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston and over time they became close friends. Frank spoke of Bill as an excellent sparring partner both on the tennis court and across the dinner table.

Frank and Betsy encouraged Dr. Moloney to write his memoirs. He was reluctant, unsure that he was up to the task. He was, after all, well into his eighties. Frank mentioned that he had a neighbor who was a ghostwriter. Would he like an introduction? I wasn’t there for that conversation, but I can just see the conspiratorial glance pass between Betsy and Frank. I think they suspected that Dr. Moloney and I would make good sparring partners in our own right.

Fittingly, our first meeting was over lunch at the Harvard Club. When I reflect on my days working with Dr. Moloney, lunch is a recurring theme. We were either eating lunch, talking about the lunch we’d recently eaten, or planning the next lunch we’d eat. Somehow, we managed to put our forks down long enough to get his book written. Pioneering Hematology: The Research and Treatment of Malignant Blood Disorders, captures the sweep of Dr. Moloney’s career, from his early days making middle-of-the-night house calls to his later established years as president of the Massachusetts division of the American Cancer Society and then Chief of Hematology at the Brigham.

Dr. Moloney’s memoir was published by the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine almost 25 years ago. At the time we wrote it, I was juggling work and mothering two children under the age of six. It was a busy, sleep-deprived period, but a few cherished memories of my time with Dr. Moloney endure:

  • Dr. Moloney was kind and generous to me and my entire family. Each and every one of our visits began with him inquiring as to the well-being of my husband Carl and our young children, AJ and Madeline. It wasn’t unusual for Dr. Moloney to send me home with new books for the children, and he was very convincing in his expressions of delight at the crayoned thank you notes he received in return.

  • Visiting Dr. Moloney in his office at the Brigham was a bit of an adventure. The term “office” is generous. The space wasn’t as much an office as something akin to a custodial closet that had been hastily repurposed. Accessing it required passing through a double set of steel doors, navigating a steep staircase lined with storage containers, and then walking across a metal catwalk that overlooked the building’s massive and noisy air conditioner unit. Dr. Moloney was given this office in the waning days of his career, long after he had retired from full-time work. But while it pained me to see him sidelined in this way, it never seemed to trouble him. He said he appreciated having an office—any office—at this late stage of his life and was grateful for the part-time salary and parking privileges that came with it. And I could see that the office gave him so much more than a place to sit and review blood slides. He would come to life, animated and energized, simply walking the halls of the hospital and having brief interactions with any staff he encountered.

  • Dr. Moloney was a wonderful writer and storyteller. I don’t feel I co-wrote his book as much as transcribed it. The man spoke in perfect, fully formed paragraphs. And even though we met in person several times each month, he wrote me letters fairly regularly. The letters were always hand-written on his personal, engraved stationery. The letters were, like him, both formal and personal. In one of his later letters to me, he expressed gratitude for our friendship, and added that he loved me as a very young granddaughter. The last letter I received from Dr. Moloney was signed “Grandpa Bill.” He died one month later, at the age of 91.

Now all these years later it is my turn to express gratitude: to Frank and Betsy for introducing me to Dr. Moloney; to Dr. Moloney for trusting me with his stories; to the American Society of Hematology and the Oral History Archives at Columbia University for having the good sense to capture Dr. Moloney in his own words; to doctors Bunn and Furie and Rosenthal, and nurse-midwife Catherine Ruhl for participating so generously in this podcast; and finally to Dr. Moloney’s grandson Sean Moloney and the stellar team at Dramatic Health for giving me the opportunity to share Dr. Moloney and a few of his stories with the rest of the world.