Cookies for Dr. Campbell

Why I Love to Cook

Most days my cooking just gives physical nourishment and keeps hunger pangs at bay. But occasionally I hit a home run by preparing food people really love. And when food can spark a memory like the one in this story… that’s why I love to cook.

Dr. L.L. Campbell was old when I met him. He had retired from his medical practice and was working at the hospital as vice president in charge of physician affairs when I worked for him. He had serious health issues of the kind that would have caused most people to give up. But Dr. Campbell was not most people.

A hospital administration office is a high stress place. Clinical departments, support departments, business offices, employees, managers, nurses, physicians, physicians’ staff, patients, patient families, and administrators all wind together like a bowl of spaghetti. Every one has their own agendas and priorities but they all go in different directions at breakneck speed and everyone thinks their issue is the most important. Dr. Campbell had a way of bringing calm to the chaos like a cool drink of water.

With his calm, quiet demeanor and the wisdom of his experience and years, people sought him out for advice. Doctors of all ages and administrators from all areas of the hospital came to talk to Dr. Campbell. But before he gave anybody advice, he listened to what they had to say. He waited for the whole story before he offered an opinion.

Dr. Campbell talked to me a lot. He shared with me his insightful observations of human nature, liberally illustrated with anecdotes from his life as the only child of an elderly preacher, a medical student, a young doctor with a wife and small children, and later as a middle-aged divorced doctor in the dating world, a step-parent, and eventually as a grandparent and an elder statesman in his own right.

Here are just a few of the many lessons he taught me:

  • A top-notch doctor going to bat for his patients can often resemble a two-year-old throwing a tantrum.
  • Administrators usually know when the organizations they lead need to make major changes and they usually know what changes need to be made. But they also know board members, managers, and employees probably won’t listen when they try to tell them to change. That’s why they hire consultants. And the more expensive the consultants, the more likely people are to do what they recommend.
  • If you actually read the precautions on prescription medication, you’ll never take anything.
  • If you aren’t going to do what the doctor tells you to do, going to the doctor is a waste of time—yours and the doctor’s.
  • Even though your mother always felt your forehead, the only way to tell for sure if a kid has a fever is with a thermometer.

Even though he was a brilliant man of science with deep feelings, he nearly always kept a poker face. Except for a twinkle in his eyes and a twitch in his beard when he laughed at the latest doctor joke, he didn’t usually let his feelings show. Maybe he hid  his feelings to maintain his professionalism or maybe he was used to wearing a mask to hide his physical pain, but one day I saw a peek at how deep Dr. Campbell’s feelings really ran. 

I had made cookies and taken them to work. The container was almost empty by the time Dr. Campbell got a cookie. One bite and the look in his eyes told me I had given him a memory of something very old and very far away. He told me the taste reminded him of the cookies his mother made and she had been dead for more than 50 years. I’m certain his mother and I were not using the same recipe. Mine called for cream cheese and he said his mother would not have had access to cream cheese. But there was something similar about the taste that took him across years and miles to his mother’s kitchen.

When Dr. Campbell’s birthday rolled around, I made a double batch—enough for him to share with all the well-wishers who would be stopping by. But instead of sharing, Dr. Campbell took the box of cookies into his office, closed the door and spent the morning remembering his mother. 

Chewy Cheesecake Cookies

½ cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

½ cup chopped pecans

3 oz. cream cheese (not the whole package), softened

1 cup plain flour

Cream butter and cream cheese together. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add flour and beat well. Stir in pecans. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto baking sheet, leaving room between cookies for them to spread out. Bake at 375 degrees for 12-13 minutes or until edges turn brown. Cool for a few minutes on cookie sheet before removing to cooling rack.

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