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Bernard Lown Unveiling

Samantha Smith Challenge Awtt Portrait

On Friday evening, June 7th, 2024, in the atrium of the Bates Mill in Lewiston, Maine, we honored  Dr. Bernard Lown by unveiling his new AWTT portrait on what would have been his 103rd birthday. Although Dr. Lown was a world renowned cardiologist, we want him emulated for his social justice work and dogged attempt to get the U.S. and the Soviet Union (Russia) to destroy their nuclear stockpiles. He has said that as a physician his duty was to heal people, but he knew that in the case of a nuclear holocaust, doctors would be helpless to heal anyone or alleviate the suffering of any survivors. If doctors can’t mend, they should prevent, he said.  And that’s what he tried to do with the organization he co-founded: International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. He also stressed that the way to peace is not by demonizing and threatening your enemy; rather, like Samantha Smith, we must humanize them and talk, find our common ground in flourishing and survival. 

Fifty years before the Nobel Prize, in 1935, in the middle of the Depression, Lown’s family emigrated from Lithuania to Lewiston to escape the rise of the Nazis. His father found employment in a shoe factory. Fourteen-year-old Bernard spoke Yiddish, not English. A few years later,he graduated with honors from the University of Maine before embarking on his extraordinary medical career. I don’t want to tell the story of his life; I’d prefer you read it here. It’s worth your time because it shows what a person of courageous perseverance can do – or nearly do – for social justice and peace.

We had a terrific group of speakers for the event: Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy, president of the University of Maine; Larry Gilbert, former mayor of Lewiston; Doug Rawlings, co-founder of Veterans for Peace; and Emma Lown, granddaughter of Dr. Lown.

Eight  members of the Lewiston High School Chamber Choir sang “Let there be Peace on Earth.” And the family of Rabbi Sruli Dresdner played Klezmer music.

Our M.C. for the evening was Emily Cain, former speaker of the Maine House, and good friend of Dr. Lown.

Emma Lown helped me unveil the portrait. I concluded my remarks about AWTT and Dr. Lown by saying:

Our reason for being here – at least my reason for painting this portrait – is not really to celebrate the magnificent accomplishments of Dr. Lown. The most important thing we can do if we want to honor him is dedicate ourselves to carrying on his work – not as cardiovascular surgeons but by insisting on the deep, courageous heart work of making peace and demanding ecological sustainability. The resistance to nuclear disarmament and militarism, as well as the resistance to changing policies that are bringing us to the brink of climate disaster, are generated by the same forces – our own intransigent systems of politics, power and profit. If history teaches us anything, it is that centers of power will not release their grip until all the profit they desire is wrung out of the system. . . . That will be too late. There is such a thing as being too late.

Abraham Lincoln Awtt Portrait

Abraham Lincoln’s closing to the Gettysburg Address yearned for “. . . a new birth of freedom – that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” But entrenched power does not want that “of, by and for.” And we know now that the earth may indeed perish if we don’t embrace those three simple prepositions. That’s our best hope. Bernard would surely agree. Our charge is to adopt his motto: “Never whisper in the presence of wrong.”

Related links:
Maine Public coverage of the event: Dr. Bernard Lown latest subject of “Americans Who Tell the Truth” portrait series
Maine Calling show earlier in the day (audio): Dr. Bernard Lown
Peace Action Maine’s raw video footage of the event: Lown Portrait Unveiling

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