By Dave Ongie, News Editor
It is almost impossible to overstate the positive impact Dr. Charles Fish had on our region.
Fish, who passed away at his home on Jan. 24 at the age of 78, co-founded Johnson City Pediatrics alongside Dr. Boyce Berry, and the two also launched the neonatal intensive care unit at Johnson City Memorial Hospital. Fish went on to help establish the neonatal intensive care unit at the Johnson City Medical Center. Later, he established the pediatric intensive care unit at JCMC and served as the director of the unit for eight years.
Fish was a clinical professor of pediatrics at the Quillen College of Medicine, served as chairman of the department of pediatrics at JCMC and belonged to many other professional medical societies, but his patients and their families were at the heart of Fish’s professional life.
He was a calming presence for families with a sick baby or child. His problem solving skills, rooted in an analytical approach, allowed him to efficiently get to the bottom of many medical concerns and provide reassurance for patients and families.
Fish was also an instrumental part of the Jewish community at B’nai Sholom Congregation. He was a lifetime board member of the congregation and very active as a synagogue leader, helping select Rabbis and Cantors for the community’s High Holiday services.
Fish will largely be remembered for being a pillar in both the medical community and his faith community, but his legacy will live on through his children and grandchildren. Fish and his wife Sandra were married for 56 years and had four children – Deborah, Michael, Rachel and Ari.
Despite his many commitments, his daughter Rachel says her father was always there for his children.
“He cultivated roots in Johnson City for our family and sought to build meaningful engagement in all aspects of his life,” Rachel said in an email to the News & Neighbor. “And yet I recall my dad driving to soccer games out of town during high school season even if it meant he only caught the last 10 minutes of the second half or taking me to travel soccer tournaments over weekends out of state.”
As an avid cyclist, Fish loved to watch the Tour de France on television, marveling at the strength, grit and perseverance displayed by the cyclists as they ascended the Pyrenees. That is a trait he tried to instill in his children – the hills are more important than the flat roads, because they force you to push yourself. Do your best, learn what you didn’t do as well, and then do better.
Fish engaged his children in conversations on car rides home from practices, games or other extracurricular activities, and he never shied away from the “big” questions in life. Rachel remembers countless conversations about politics, religion and ideas that could change the world.
After Fish graduated high school, those conversations continued over cellphone as her father walked his dogs through the neighborhood while Rachel walked in Washington D.C., Jerusalem, New York, Cambridge or Waltham with her own dogs or pushing a baby stroller.
“He always made me feel supported and he was always available and completely present with me, not distracted by other thoughts, not removed with other commitments, but focused on being together,” Rachel recalled. “I recognize what a gift that is – the gift of time and being fully present.”
It’s a gift Rachel now tries to give to her own children and husband as she juggles the responsibilities of her professional work and her involvement in her own community. It’s a challenge he embraced, so she embraces it as well.
Rachel says she can still hear her father’s voice every time she sits down to write. He was an enthusiastic copyeditor, always pushing her to be clearer and more concise, reminding her to keep molding her words until they got her intended message across.
She also hears her father’s voice when she sees a problem in the world that requires action – “Rachel, what are you going to do about it?”
That call to action propels Dr. Fish’s children to be a force for good in the world, compelling them to make the same positive impact in their communities that he made in his. In that way, Fish’s legacy will live on for years to come.
“I didn’t have to do it alone but I had to start; I had to try,” Rachel said. “I couldn’t ignore the problem and leave it for someone else. That is a piece of my dad that lives deeply inside of me.”