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Morven, the University of Virginia, and the Summer Jefferson Symposium

Posted on: March 10th, 2014 by Lifetime Learning No Comments

By John Ragosta

Earlier this week, Althea Brooks from Lifetime Learning in Alumni and Parent Engagement sent me an article concerning Morven, the 3,000 acre property which John W. Kluge donated to the University of Virginia, most of which had in its time been purchased by Thomas Jefferson for his secretary, William Short. Those that had the opportunity to attend the Summer Jefferson Symposium in 2012 will remember a delightful evening exploring the grounds and buildings at Morven before a wonderful dinner and lecture concerning William Short’s plans to emancipate his slaves and experiment with tenant farmers.

The article is about a team of architects who are trying to re-imagine how UVA can best use Morven to connect UVA to the world, consistent with the bequest. Morven Article. Kluge saw the property, with its extraordinary grounds, buildings, and gardens as a place that would serve to gather thinkers and innovators in Charlottesville who would “bring their ideas, their culture.” The UVA Foundation website describes it as “A venue for critical thinking and creative problem solving.” A quick perusal of the website shows that scores of interesting conferences, programs, and visits are hosted at Morven each year. Still, one gets the sense from the architects’ project that while the possibilities are endless, how best to use the property is still up in the air.

I don’t mean to be critical, and I don’t envy them their task. Still, while absolutely clueless as to what their report will suggest, I am confident that it will be an exciting opportunity for UVA, the region, and beyond.

When we focus our attention on ideas, culture, problem solving, and critical thinking, we cannot help but to advance the effort. What effort? That of a liberal arts education. Of course, it is hard to define what exactly that is, but, to paraphrase a Supreme Court opinion in a very different area, “I know it when I see it.” One of the best definitions, one that I think of often when I am teaching, is to promote a life well-lived. To give vision, meaning, advancement to the human condition. To serve, because certainly service is an essential part of a life well-lived. Jefferson once described William Short upon returning from an exploratory and research trip to Italy: He was “charged, like a bee, with the honey of wisdom, a blessing to his country and honour and comfort to his friends.” Not a bad description of lifetime learning (and I always appreciate references to bees).

So, we wish the architects the best in their endeavors and look forward to their report.

What does this have to do with the Summer Jefferson Symposium? I think much.

Why come to Charlottesville for several days to learn about Jefferson, Madison, Henry, Burr and other “dead white males” (and a few dead females as well)? It is all part of continuing to learn and explore and think. Mind you, I do not mean to suggest that we should or can take eighteenth century wisdom and apply it uncritically to twenty-first century problems. Any good historian would eschew that. Yet, history does teach us about the human condition, in this case, how one of America’s greatest thinkers and politicians worked with, struggled with, family, friends, and foes. Even more fundamentally, simply the chance to learn, relax, think, and enjoy in Charlottesville and the Piedmont can nurture ideas and culture, critical thinking and problem solving. I don’t mean to be Pollyannaish, but I think that is what we’re doing in a symposium like this. In June, scholars from Monticello, Montpelier, UVA, and Louisiana State University will gather for a few days to think about Jefferson and his relationships with those around him and to try to have a conversation about that with visitors from around the country. For those of us in the academy, it is a chance, as John Kluge sought, to connect with the broader world.

Hope to see you this June at Summer Jefferson Symposium!

Sex and Monticello: Jefferson, France and the politics of secrets.

Posted on: March 6th, 2014 by Lifetime Learning No Comments

By Andrew Burstein


In the final years of Thomas’s Jefferson’s life, America’s best friend in Europe was also the last surviving commander of Continental Army forces. The Marquis de Lafayette was a fatherless French aristocrat, inspired by the Declaration of Independence, who outfitted a vessel and sailed the Atlantic to commit to the American cause. Widely identified as General Washington’s “adoptive son,” Lafayette survived not one, but two revolutions (our nation’s and his). After an absence of four decades, he returned to the United States in 1824, accompanied by his son, George Washington Lafayette.Throughout the marquis’ triumphal tour, newspapers reported his every move, his every speech, as he symbolically set foot on the soil of each of the 24 states–nearly drowning when the boat his party was traveling on up the Ohio River went down in the middle of the night. All a person had to say was “the Nation’s Guest,” and everyone knew who was meant. Lafayette was so beloved that multiple cities and counties were named after him. For extended moments, France loved America, America loved France. On Nov. 4, 1824, Lafayette’s coach arrived at Monticello, to the accompaniment of trumpets. Jefferson emerged from the house and the two men embraced. Eyewitnesses wept. Jefferson’s nephew arrived late: “I would have given my best coat to have witnessed the meeting,” he said. No one will marvel at the sublime when Francois Hollande is received Monday at Jefferson’s villa, but the French president undoubtedly knows of the “special relationship” our two countries enjoyed at the time America’s moral identity was being forged. Hollande’s visit to the mountaintop with President Obama will conjure warm feelings and reveal familiar artifacts. Jefferson was a noted connoisseur of French wines, which he continued to import for decades after his tenure as U.S. minister to France ended in 1789. Monticello’s signature dome was copied from the Parisian architecture he had lovingly inspected. When Jefferson was in office, a French chef ran the kitchen at what was then called the President’s House. As to that moral identity, which Jefferson helped to forge with his rich patriotic script and French Enlightenment influence, much can be said. Jefferson has always been freedom’s philosopher, but over the past half-century, his position along America’s political spectrum has shifted from one end to the other. From the New Deal through the 1960s, he was plainly a champion of liberal government. The patrician Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw Jefferson as he saw himself, “a great gentleman … a great commoner.” In combating the conservatives who regarded his programs as a government takeover, FDR insisted: “Jefferson realized that the government must intervene … not to destroy individualism, but to protect it.” Yet no president loved Thomas Jefferson more than Ronald Reagan, who collected Jefferson quotes, peppered numerous speeches with them and was thoroughly convinced that the third president was, like himself, a champion of small government. At the Jefferson Memorial, on July 3, 1987, he said: “Jefferson so fervently believed that limited government was vital to the preservation of liberty that he used his influence to see to it that the Constitution included a Bill of Rights, 10 amendments that spelled out specific governmental limitations.”


One thing has never changed. Jefferson’s is the first name Americans associate with representative democracy. He is the founding father whose political sentiments reverberate loudest. Here and around the world, he is democracy’s muse. When former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Monticello in 1993, he remarked that he had conceived Russian reform by referring back to what he’d read in college about Jefferson’s political thought.Politicians gravitate to Jefferson for obvious reasons. His expressions of hope for the future of the republic—and republics abroad—remain integral to Americans’ collective sense of purpose. Over the years, he has provided an ennobling vocabulary that members of Congress draw upon when they seek support for anything from the latest farm bill to patent reform. He is an oracle of sorts, with near-biblical authority. In the mid-1990s, for example, Republican Bob Smith of New Hampshire rose in the Senate chamber, and proclaimed: “Lest there be any doubt where Thomas Jefferson would have stood on the balanced budget amendment, that doubt ought to be laid to rest by the following statement he made in 1798: ‘I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution … an additional article taking from the federal government the power of borrowing.’”

But back then, the Democratic Party had a spokesperson with a special claim to the third president. It was right there in his middle name: William Jefferson Clinton. Speaking at the Jefferson Memorial on the occasion of Jefferson’s 250th birthday, President Clinton called attention to one of the panels inside the national shrine that resonated with model liberalism: “Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind…. Manners and opinions change. With the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.” If Reagan’s Jefferson was a symbol of an admired past and a simpler, more manageable government system, Clinton’s Jefferson was sensitive, experimental and oriented toward the future. He was a protector of the environment, too.

Jefferson can sound thoroughly cautious and practical in his pronouncements, and usually does. But he also indulged in hyperbole. From France, some years before that nation plunged into the time of Terror, he wrote fatefully: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh wore a “blood of tyrants” T-shirt on the day he blew up the Murrah Federal Building.

Andrew Burstein is Manship professor of history at Louisiana State University. He is author of Jefferson’s Secrets, coauthor of Madison and Jefferson and will publish Democracy’s Muse: Thomas Jefferson and His Modern Fate next year.

As a unifier, Jefferson came into play after Sept. 11, 2001, when a number of congresspersons repeated the iconic phrase that encircles the inside of the Jefferson Memorial: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” We would persevere whenever tyrannical threats loomed. And then flowed stern recollections of President Jefferson’s response to state-sponsored terrorism: In 1801, despite his policy of holding down the defense budget, he opted to defend the national honor by dispatching marines to “the shores of Tripoli,” where Islamic pirates kidnapped and demanded ransoms. In 2004, with leadership responsibilities front and center in that fraught election year, Time devoted its Independence Day cover story to Jefferson, the “philosopher-president.” Would he have invaded Iraq?, the editors asked.

How odd that an 18th-century man should retain such a hold on our political culture. What would cause a people to turn to him as often as they do, and on so may levels? How can he be at once the founder of the modern Democratic Party and the Tea Party’s darling? Everyone wants to claim him. Except when it comes to private behavior, that is.

From Paris, in 1785, Jefferson wrote to a young Virginian to warn him of the temptations a male faced in France: “He is led by the strongest of all the human passions into a spirit for female intrigue destructive of his own and others happiness, or a passion for whores destructive of his health, and in both cases he learns to consider fidelity to the marriage bed as an ungentlemanly practice and inconsistent with happiness.” Given President Hollande’s ongoing tussle with the scandal sheets, Jefferson’s old advice is given new life. But, of course, Jefferson himself, who lacked the prescience to anticipate DNA, continues to endure a similar scrutiny over his sexual activity with Monticello house servant Sally Hemings.

As the French say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” How romantically our two nations are intertwined! It was generally assumed, in 1824, that the 66-year-old French marquis was more than “just friends” with his traveling companion, the women’s rights activist and free love advocate Frances Wright. Jefferson’s prim and proper daughter Martha found Fanny Wright to be frightfully immoral.

When the “Nation’s Guest” was riding in the neighborhood of Monticello with the aged Jefferson, at the reins of their carriage sat Israel Jefferson, a slave, who was to be sold after Jefferson died in deep debt. Lafayette had been writing regularly to Jefferson over the years, decrying the persistence of American slavery, and Israel was eavesdropping on just such a conversation. The two leaders were so intimate that years later, during his final visit to the American patriarch’s home, Lafayette promised to send Jefferson a superior French “bougie,” or catheter, to assist the Virginian in treating an enlarged prostate.

Today, the eavesdropping on world leaders’ private conversations is quite another matter. Last summer, Hollande joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel in calling for the United States to stop eavesdropping on its allies. Presumably, Messieurs Obama and Hollande will guard their tongues and speak pleasantries at Monticello.

Presidents used to imagine they could keep their secrets–and build their legacies–without having to adjust for prying eyes. Freedom-loving Americans expressed shock at European liberties—those that were personal, yet exposed. And so Jefferson took his secrets to the grave. But we know the way these things go: Some years later, Israel Jefferson confirmed that his late master had been on “intimate terms” with his attractive biracial chambermaid. Sometimes the past reawakens. Reputations change.

As Hollande steps into Jefferson’s home, he will be mulling over a dismal 19 percent approval rating back in France. In that vein, it is curious that Jefferson the Francophile, though he adored Lafayette, also confided in James Madison that the pro-American marquis had one giant flaw. It wasn’t a taste for younger women, but a “canine appetite for popularity.” So it’s hard to know what Monsieur Hollande will obtain by channeling Jefferson. At least, he’ll get to see hanging in the parlor of Monticello the same portrait of Lafayette that the marquis himself saw when he last visited.

Andrew Burstein is Manship professor of history at Louisiana State University. He is author of Jefferson’s Secrets, coauthor of Madison and Jefferson and will publish Democracy’s Muse: Thomas Jefferson and His Modern Fate next year.

Learn more about Thomas Jefferson at the Summer Jefferson Symposium in Charlottesville, VA June 19 – 22, 2014.

Thomas Jefferson’s Friends, Family and Foes

Posted on: February 12th, 2014 by Lifetime Learning 1 Comment

Dear Alumni, Parents and Friends:

Every person tends to fit others into their own worldview. In our minds, we shape them to our own understanding. This tendency was particularly strong in Jefferson. Thus, when George Washington became concerned that Jefferson’s and Madison’s Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions threatened the union and convinced Patrick Henry to enter his last political campaign as a Federalist, Jefferson had to declare Henry an “apostate” to Republicanism – nothing else could explain Henry’s political opposition. Not only did Jefferson shape his own understanding of people, but he also tried to shape people themselves to his idealized understanding. He wrote letters to his daughters telling them that, to earn their father’s love, they needed to meet his exacting standards. The people around Jefferson were a palette on which he tried to paint, and a palette on which he can be read.

Jefferson’s vision of early America lived on after his death, not just in his political philosophy, but in those whom he had shaped and who helped to define what Jefferson’s world was and was not. Studying Jefferson through those around him – friends, family, and foes – is a wonderful way to better understand his world, and our own.

I hope that you will join us in Virginia’s beautiful Piedmont in June to continue this discussion of Jefferson’s family, friends, and foes. Learn more and register.

Best regards,

John Ragosta

Faculty Director, Summer Jefferson Symposium
Robert C. Vaughan Fellow, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
University of Virginia

What would Jefferson think of a MOOC?

Posted on: February 3rd, 2014 by Lifetime Learning 5 Comments

By John Ragosta

moocsI know that it is a silly question in many ways: Imagine first explaining to Tom computers, video, the internet, and then modern education. You can see where this goes.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Classes), though, have become one of the hottest topics in higher education as lawmakers and administrators look to deliver learning more cheaply, as leading “brands” (top universities) seek to increase their “market share,” as students seek to navigate a confusing landscape of educational opportunities and costs, and as teachers ask hard questions about how one is really educated and the value of that education.  Setting aside the plethora of questions before MOOCs could be offered for college credit – ensuring students view videos, do the reading, participate in discussions, pass exams – there is no doubt that the role of MOOCs in education will continue to develop.

What precipitated the question was the announcement by UVA and Monticello that they are co-sponsoring a MOOC entitled “Age of Jefferson” taught by Peter Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor of History emeritus at UVA and one of the country’s leading experts on Jefferson. (I had the chance to observe the filming of a very interesting session on the Declaration of Independence for that course.)

From an educational perspective, MOOCs offer intriguing possibilities. Lectures by world experts can be delivered anywhere, at anytime, and at a very low cost. One can study archaeology from academics working at some of the most exciting digs around the world, or listen to lectures on philosophy by great thinkers thousands of miles away. Properly structured, the MOOCs might even offer some opportunity for interaction with other students and a professor (through message boards, blogging, etc.).

I, though, join those who urge at least some caution. The underlying question is how to best deliver education and what is valuable in education. The movement to MOOCs is often part of a broader effort to make education work on a business model. It is certainly true that colleges and universities need to be acutely aware of costs and efficiency (I can speak as the father of college students), and students need to have realistic information and expectations about job prospects. At the same time, basing most decisions about academia on a measurable or immediate cost/benefit analysis is fundamentally perverse. What we learn in higher-education, in the liberal arts as well as the sciences and professional schools, often, perhaps usually, has a value to the student and to society that goes well beyond anything quantifiable. (I was there to watch as the same “business model” approach undermined some of the country’s premier law firms and impaired the professionalism at the heart of the practice of law.) More to the point, my experience has been that students learn best when a teacher can stand in front of them, see perplexed expressions or dawning understanding, react immediately to inquiries, encourage effectively discussion with and among students, meet outside of class to address questions or problems, engage in a community of learning that goes beyond a lecture.

These are things that we look forward to doing this June at the Summer Jefferson Symposium, Thomas Jefferson: Friends, Family, and Foes. There will be suggested readings and serious lectures, but there will also be time to discuss the ideas presented by the experts, both during and after lectures, and to gain insights from other attendees. While not the same as a semester-long college class, I think we’ll all enjoy the experience and learn something about Jefferson and the early republic.

Of course, one can hardly naysay the opportunity for more people to listen to fascinating lectures on Jefferson by a leading scholar. And if you have been thinking about a MOOC or similar lecture series, starting with Peter’s lectures on Jefferson would be an excellent place to start.  I’m sure that Tom would approve.

I hope, though, that we will see you in person in Charlottesville on June 19 for the beginning of the Summer Jefferson Symposium. I will look forward to welcoming you to the Grounds.

Jefferson and his Family of Friends

Posted on: December 11th, 2013 by Lifetime Learning 1 Comment

ragostaBy John Ragosta

A pending auction of a small survey map (smaller than a standard piece of paper) has historic collectors all aflutter. It is a 200 year old plat for a 1300 acre farm in central Virginia originally called Indian Camp.

What is generating all of the excitement is that the plat was hand-drawn by Thomas Jefferson. An original Jefferson document on the market is always interesting. (I can dream of a surprise Christmas present, but the auction house has conservatively estimated the sales price at $8,000 to $12,000.) As it turns out, though, this particular plat relates directly to the topic for the 2014 Summer Jefferson Symposium: “Thomas Jefferson: Family, Friends, and Foes.”

The story starts with William Short, a distant Jefferson relative by marriage who served as Jefferson’s private secretary while he was ambassador in Paris. Working together closely over a period of years, years in which Jefferson was intoxicated with the cultural and intellectual delights of Europe, Jefferson grew inordinately fond of Short, describing him as an “adoptive son.” When Jefferson returned to America Short stayed in Europe in an effort to develop his own diplomatic career. Only months later, Jefferson wrote to his former secretary that “affection and the long habit of your society have rendered it necessary” that they again live in close proximity; Short must move to Albemarle. By 1795, Jefferson bought Indian Camp on his behalf.

Jefferson, plagued by the vicissitudes of politics in the early republic, imagined an intellectual retreat of intelligent and committed friends in the piedmont of Virginia. Enchanted by that prospect, he worked diligently to create such a family of friends. James Madison was, of course, ensconced at Montpelier, a day away (close enough by eighteenth century standards). James Monroe would move to the area in 1799 at Jefferson’s insistence, only selling what would become known as Ashland-Highland in 1825 under financial pressure. Jefferson also hoped to attract Philip Mazzei as a permanent resident.

Short was intrigued by the idea. Not only could Indian Camp bring him more tightly into the orbit of the extended Jefferson “family,” but it might permit him to test his theory about replacing slaves with tenant farmers. Unfortunately, Short never took up residence in the vicinity, although he did visit Jefferson at Monticello for a month at a time on several occasions. In 1813 Short sold the property, after which it became known as Morven, a wonderful plantation that attendees at the 2012 Summer Jefferson Symposium will remember fondly.

All interesting pieces of the Jeffersonian puzzle and how this cosmopolitan early American really longed for a retreat of family and friends where his foes could not reach. As with other of Jefferson’s visions, finances and human nature interfered (with Short’s decisions certainly influenced by his belief that Madison and Monroe had failed to support his own diplomatic career sufficiently).

We can look forward to June and an opportunity to continue the conversation about Jefferson’s efforts to construct a community of friends.

Learn more about the 2014 Summer Jefferson Symposium

The Power of Pause

Posted on: November 18th, 2013 by Lifetime Learning 4 Comments

By Dorrie K. Fontaine, Dean of the School of Nursing
(adapted from Dean Fontaine’s Convocation address, JPJ Arena, Sept. 28, 2013)

Dorrie_Fontaine_2011_08_JHMany of us certainly recall Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” – a 1938 play about two families experiencing life’s many junctures — birth, marriage, work, death – in fictitious Grover’s Corners, an imaginary turn-of-the-century New England town. One often remarked-upon scene in particular towards the play’s end reminds many of us of this bittersweet passage of time, even among the humdrum days and infinite details that largely comprise a life.

“It really goes by so fast,” laments a young Emily Webb, who’d died in childbirth and is subsequently reviewing her own life from heaven. “We don’t have time to look at one another … Do human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?”

Of course we don’t. We are often not paying attention. And our colleagues, spouses, our friends and especially our children are the unlucky recipients of this dwindling focus. But as a nurse, attention – the “rarest and purest form of generosity,” wrote philosopher Simone Weil – is the key ingredient so necessary to our care. So it’s up to nursing academics to teach students how to pay attention – and to understand that it’s attention that is in so many ways the basis for compassion.

We often talk about whether empathy and compassion can be taught – whether a nursing professor can, in fact, teach students to learn to pay attention, be empathic. And many people still believe that we “come as we are,” that we’re born with abundant compassion and the ability to empathize – or not – and that those drawn to nursing we hope have larger than usual reservoirs of compassion to offer their patients.

I wager that these are indeed teachable traits. And we instruct our students in them every day at the School of Nursing.

One way we teach students to pay attention is by learning to pause – something most of us don’t do often enough in our busy lives. There is great power in pausing. Nowhere is that more evident than in our own UVA Medical Center ER, where ER nurse Jonathan Bartels established “The Pause” a few years ago.

UVa School of Nursing. Jonathan Bartels leads "The Pause"Jonathan’s Pause — a 45-second to two-minute ceremony — takes place after a patient codes after a difficult or traumatic resuscitation attempt. Here’s why he did it – in his own words:

“I noted that when people die after a traumatic instance, a code, often I would see surgeons and docs and nurses walk away with frustration, throw their gloves off in a defeatist attitude, not recognizing that the patient was a human being we worked on saving. So after these deaths I decided it would be a good thing to stop and pause and do a moment of silence. Just stopping. Honoring them in your own way, in silence.”

Jonathan’s Pause offers time to honor the human life that was lost, recognize the loss the family experienced, and acknowledge the medical team for their work and valiant effort. And there is no single way to pause – how it looks depends wholly on the individual who’s pausing. (more…)

“Go Away! The Importance of Study Abroad”

Posted on: November 14th, 2013 by Lifetime Learning 2 Comments

Picture1by David T. Gies
Commonwealth Professor of Spanish

When students —or their parents— ask me if they should consider studying abroad, I usually answer with a simple, elegant word. “Duh!”

I think that means “Yes.”

Actually, what I THINK to myself is something more along these lines:  “What??!  Are you CRAZY?  UVa has some of the nation’s best study abroad programs, programs designed to stretch your linguistic skills, to challenge you to see the world beyond the borders of Cabell Hall or Rubgy Road or your dorm room, to open your eyes and ears to new perspectives and new ideas, to open your senses to new sounds and colors and tastes and smells, to allow you to delve in to the culture and literature and film of some of the planet’s most exciting places. We have programs or exchanges in France, England, Spain, Costa Rica, Italy, Ireland, Hong Kong, South Korea, Sweden, Jordan, Morocco, South Africa, Shanghai, and many other places.  Or, we can send you wherever you want to go.”

Can’t decide on just one country? (more…)

Can Compassion and Empathy Be Learned?

Posted on: November 11th, 2013 by Lifetime Learning No Comments

Dorrie_Fontaine_2011_08_JHby Dorrie K. Fontaine

The Daily Progress Posted: Sunday, January 6, 2013 12:15 am

Can compassion be taught?

It’s a question asked by parents, educators and employers, by anyone who watches or reads the news, listens to school bus taunts, or pays attention to politics. But more importantly, it’s a poignant query from patients caught up in our nation’s health care system — places that often seem to have lost the sense of heart that’s so desperately needed.

So when so many people believe we are largely “who we are” at birth — and when the world seems stained by rampant incivility, even in settings that are supposed to offer care — how can we be so bold as to suggest that compassion and empathy can be learned?

Because, remarkably, it can. We can all learn to be better versions of ourselves quite on purpose. Nursing students do it every day.

Now, it’s true that those who join our field are often blessed with ample heart and ability to empathize. But even those with compassionate prowess can learn lessons to amplify their care.

The rest of us, who are quite human as we hurry, judge, become frustrated and grow tense, can learn too. Every single one of us — with a new year before us most especially — can benefit from learning to take care.

That throwaway phrase we so often utter — “take care” — can truly mean something, if you let it. Consider this essay your invitation to nursing school for a day.

At the University of Virginia, our nascent Compassionate Care and Empathic Leadership Initiative — a lengthy, fancy name for a simple, purposeful way to teach kindness, usher resilience and nurture compassion — is seeding change in fertile ground. An all-volunteer army of more than 70 nurses, physicians, chaplains, students and others are gathering monthly to consider meaningful, relevant ways to develop our personal reservoirs of compassion, noting simple, small ways we can better care for our patients, one another and ourselves.

These are concrete ways that help us to be more compassionate caregivers — ideas that could, in this season, be spread not with high-minded self-righteousness but rather with quiet kindness and empathy.

Perhaps the biggest lesson is to cultivate an ability to listen to others. Not planning on what you’ll say next while another person is talking, but really hearing what is being said, taking the time to consider it before responding. And sometimes, taking what someone says and sitting with it, quietly, and thoughtfully, and even without response.

A close second lesson we espouse is the idea of being fully present — fully entrenched in the right here, right now, not tippy-tapping on your iPhone while someone talks.

Equally important is remembering to be respectful to colleagues, and to oneself.  To look people in the eye. To say please, and thank you. And, when the going gets tough — as it often does for so many of us in healthcare — to remember to breathe deeply, take a moment or two to collect ourselves, and to do our best each and every time we encounter another person.

In the emergency room at UVa Medical Center, the “pause” — a 45-second moment of silence that many practitioners here have self-determined to institute, based on our compassionate care workshops — enables them to transform a challenging trauma case, a death, into a moment marked by respect and dignity.

Hospital deaths may be ugly and raw — no one chooses to go this way — but it’s nurses who orchestrate death to meet patient and family needs. So while it’s still sad, and we still grieve, there is a difference: We take the time to reflect before moving onto the next patient, rather than letting the rage, grief and sadness cloud our judgment. There is a way to make even something stark as death seem beautiful, even dignified.

How many times, and in how many sad, difficult or maddening situations, would you have been a better version of yourself if you just counted slowly, with purposeful breath, from one to twenty before moving on?

These may be lessons from nursing school — but they’re also for life. And when nurses lead, others follow. These simple lessons apply in so many settings — at home, in the office, at the hospital and clinic. We can change patient experiences — making difficult things less so, being present when there are painful, uncomfortable situations — and one another by purposefully taking care.

I urge you to inject compassion in everything you do — when you drive, when you speak with your children, when you interact with coworkers and strangers. I wish you eyeball-to-eyeball conversations, the ability to listen deeply and be present, and hope you’ll take a few lessons from a nurse.

And take care. I really mean that.

Dorrie K. Fontaine is dean of the University of Virginia School of Nursing.

Did you miss the More Than The Score talk on Waking Up to Wisdom and Well-Being with Dorrie Fontaine, Dean, School of Nursing and panelists from  U.Va.’s Contemplative Sciences Center: David Germano, Professor, A&S, Religious Studies; David Mick, Professor, School of Commerce, Marketing and Susan Bauer-Wu, Professor, School of Nursing? Listen to the recorded November 2, 2013 event via iTunesU.


Rose Kennedy: Mother of Camelot

Posted on: October 8th, 2013 by Lifetime Learning No Comments

Rose_KennedyBarbara A. Perry
Senior Fellow
UVA’s Miller Center
Presidential Oral History Program

You could almost narrate a century of United States history through Rose Kennedy’s captivating biography.  Her nearly 104 years in the political limelight spanned almost half of the American republic’s own life. Eulogized by Life magazine as “part nun, part enchantress, part ward boss and all mother,” Rose saw her family’s ascendency to the heights of political power and cultural capital, only to be dashed by unfathomable tragedies.

It seems more mythology than fact: her father’s rise to congressman and Boston mayor, just a generation removed from the Irish potato famine; her husband Joe accumulating millions in Hollywood and on Wall Street, then coming to Washington as a New Dealer, followed by his notorious service as ambassador to England. Add to that Rose’s nine lauded children, among them a president, three senators, a congressman, an attorney general, two World War II military heroes, and an ambassador. Rose created an elegant public presence before Jackie was even a twinkle in the nation’s eye. A “republican mother” (grooming her sons for public service), inveterate globe-trotter, consummate fashion plate, media maven, and formidable philanthropist, Rose proved an adept and indefatigable campaigner for Jack, Bobby, and Teddy, informing their compassionate social policies through her unshakable Catholic faith. This story epitomizes the American dream: from immigrant roots to fame, fortune, and influence.

I recently launched my book Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.  (See attached photo.)  Using an invaluable cache of Rose’s recently released diaries and letters, as well as rare photos, historic recordings, and interviews with Kennedy family members, I have discovered the private woman behind the enigmatic public icon.  The book also illustrates how Rose’s perfectionism, initially a response to the strictures imposed on Catholic women of the Victorian era, ultimately created a family portrait that resonated in modern politics and media.

Rose’s crucial role in a patriarchal clan expanded as her father, husband, and sons exited the stage. To understand her is to understand the Kennedy mystique and its enduring hold on the American imagination, fifty years after JFK’s assassination brought a tragic end to the Camelot presidency.

To see a conversation about Rose Kennedy with me and Washington Post journalist Vincent Bzdek, visit Or for a short interview, link to WBUR  at  For more information about this and all my books, please visit .  You can also follow me on Twitter @BarbaraPerryUVA.

mtts logoJoin us for More Than The Score October 19, 2013 to hear Barbara Perry’s talk!

Camelot at 50: Rose Kennedy and the Creation of a Political Legend

Protein tweak may trigger Alzheimer’s

Posted on: September 16th, 2013 by Lifetime Learning No Comments

untitledUnusual version of disease-linked amyloid-beta slows destruction in mouse brains

By Laura Sanders

Web edition : Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Scientists have caught tiny amounts of a strangely shaped protein — a relative of a well-known suspect in Alzheimer’s disease —spreading destruction throughout the brains of mice. If a similar process happens in the human brain, it could help explain how Alzheimer’s starts, and even suggest new ways to stop the dangerous molecule’s spread.

Many Alzheimer’s researchers believe the abundance of a molecule called A-beta in the brain is one of the key steps in developing the disease. A-beta commonly takes the form of a chain of 42 protein building blocks called amino acids.

The new study chronicles the dangers of a modified A-beta that lacks the first two amino acids in the chain. Capping this stub is a rare, circular amino acid called pyroglutamate. Until recently, this form “has been largely ignored as some minor mysterious form of amyloidbeta,” says study coauthor George Bloom of the University of Virginia. Yet even trace amounts of this version, called pyroglutamylated Abeta, or pE A-beta, are devastating to mouse nerve cells, he and colleagues report online May 2 in Nature.

“This opens up a whole new view of the disease,” says neurogeneticist Rudy Tanzi of Harvard Medical School. Instead of focusing just on the amount of A-beta in the brain, scientists need to pay attention to modifications of the molecule, too, he says.

Minuscule amounts of pE A-beta can pair up with more commonplace types and trigger them to misfold, the team reports. These misfolded molecules are then much more deadly to nerve cells, killing about half of mice nerve cells tested in a dish within 24 hours. Experiments with pE A-beta in the brains of mice revealed signs of massive damage, too. “Even at vanishingly small quantities, the mixture is still toxic,” Bloom says.

But this toxicity required a co-conspirator — a protein called tau that tangles up inside nerve cells. Mice genetically designed to lack tau were largely immune to the ill effects of pE A-beta, the team reports. Scientists don’t yet understand exactly how tau and A-beta interact.

It’s not clear whether the results in mice will apply to people. Bloom and his colleagues detected pE A-beta in three out of three postmortem brains of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and one out of three from people without the disease.

The study may have uncovered one of the first steps in a long disease process, says Tanzi. “This puts even more emphasis on early detection of the disease before symptoms appear,” he says. “We really need to hit this disease early.”

The research also points out one potential new way to do that. A Germany-based company called Probiodrug, where three coauthors of the study work, is developing a medicine designed to curb pE A-beta’s production in the brain by targeting the molecule’s creator — an enzyme called glutaminyl cyclase. In 2011, the company announced positive results from preliminary safety tests of the drug in healthy volunteers.

Join the More Than The Score talk Is it Possible to Eradicate Alzheimer’s Disease in Our Lifetime?

September 21, 2013

with Speakers:
George Bloom, Professor, Biology, A&S and Professor, Cell Biology, Medicine
Timothy Salthouse, Brown-Forman Professor, Psychology, A&S and Director, Virginia Cognitive Aging Project