The caring hands, kind heart, low-key humor and tremendous intellect of Dr. Vernon Branson left a lasting legacy in Lawrence.
For more than four decades, Branson, who died this week at the age of 88, comforted and tutored thousands of patients and parents. Because of his unique style and velvety personal touch, there probably are at least that many personal "Vern stories."
He and his noted wife, Jessie, a former nurse and state representative, moved to Lawrence from Beatrice, Neb., in 1955. He grew up in Webb City, Mo., and Osawatomie, Kan., and was a basketball star at Fullerton State College in California. He got his medical training at the Kansas University Medical Center and, after a medical internship, served three years with the U.S. Navy amphibious forces in the South Pacific during World War II.
Then came a residency in pediatrics and pathology at KU, and the opening of private practice in Beatrice. In addition to his 50 years in pediatric practice, Vern established one of the first child poison control centers in the country, was a teacher in the KUMC pediatrics department and earned honor after honor in the medical field.
His cultural and social welfare efforts included work with The Shelter, Boys Achievement Place, Girls Achievement Place, and the Villages. He established the Birth Defects Center at the KU Medical Center and served in one administrative role after another with major agencies in the field. He was a past president of the Douglas County ARC, which serves people with mental disabilities, and was a founding member of Cottonwood.
He and his wife, often quietly, were driving forces behind innumerable worthwhile projects, such as the establishment of the Lawrence Chamber Music Society.
But it was as the kind, compassionate, ever-helpful pediatrician where Vernon Branson made his greatest and most lasting contributions to our community. Asked once to cite his greatest source of professional pride, he responded with typical Branson modesty: "The fact that I've been asked by a lot of people to take care of their infants and children." Adds a friend: "He was always very calm, quiet and humorous and had the full attention of kids. : They were fascinated with him. But he doesn't treat disease, as such. He treats kids and he influences their health and well-being so they can make better choices in their lives."
The Bransons had three daughters and a son. The doctor sometimes explained that the valuable lessons he learned through his son, who had mental disabilities, made him a more determined, patient and tolerant person and physician.
Vern had a special civility, gentility, respect for others and a ready willingness to laugh, often at himself. One evening at a local gathering, a number of parents and grandparents reminded Branson of some of the good advice they had received from him in the past - tips they had used to benefit themselves, their children and grandchildren. Again employing that incomparable ability to swing the spotlight away from himself, he responded with his inimitable grin: "Well, even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then."
He was officially Vernon Branson, and would be addressed by the more formal "Dr. Branson" label, for a while anyway, until people knew him a little better. But he became better-known to countless people here simply as Vern, a man whose choice of Lawrence in 1955 gave the community one of its major treasures of the last half-century.