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On the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, we remember what we lost, as individuals, as communities and as Americans. For the Huntington and Marshall University community, the loss was personal. Dr. Paul Ambrose was among the 189 lives lost when American Airlines Flight 77 was taken over by terrorists and flown into the Pentagon.

Paul was many things to many people. He attracted attention as a gifted physician, a health care leader and an innovator driven to improve the health of underserved and disadvantaged people.

Paul was a scholar. He held bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences and Spanish, magna cum laude, from Marshall University, a medical degree from the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and a master’s degree from Harvard School of Public Health. He also completed a family practice residency at Dartmouth College, where he served under the mentorship of former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop.

Paul was a leader. He served as senior clinical advisor to the Surgeon General of the United States. He was named senior scientist for federal research on the increase in obesity in the United States. He was one of 17 experts who advised Congress on graduate medical education.

Paul was a talented and caring physician. He founded a primary care clinic for Spanish-speaking people in the Washington, D.C., area and spent his weekends working at that clinic. He accomplished all of this by the age of 32. In the years following Paul’s death, many programs, awards and scholarships — too many to list — were established in his name.

To his family and friends, Paul was simply a great guy. He was full of life and positive energy. He was an avid outdoorsman and adventurer. He would be especially pleased at the establishment of the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health (PATH), a 26-mile trail system winding throughout Huntington. Wherever he went, good things happened. His parents, Sharon and Ken, who had lost another wonderful son, Scott, three years before, have served as academic and health care leaders in their own rite. The Ambrose family continues to contribute enormously to the Huntington and Marshall University community through the Paul Ambrose Foundation. Paul also left behind two nieces, Lexy Ambrose and Britany Miller.

At this point in this narrative, I know that Paul would interrupt and ask where I was heading with all this. Am I implying that his life was somehow more valuable than any other lost on that day? He would immediately say that no person’s life is more important or worthy than another’s. He spent his life living out that belief. Loved ones, friends, neighbors, caretakers and others were all taken on that terrible day 20 years ago. But, I am convinced that there are reasons to remember and reflect on Paul Ambrose.

So, let me remember, and as I remember, I am proud. I am proud that this good and warm-hearted young man chose to use his hard work and natural ability to care for others and make the world better. I am proud that he came from our community, our university, our School of Medicine. I am proud that he was my great friend, student and colleague. I remember, because I want to believe that remembering will make me kinder and more caring as I do my own work. I remember to remind myself that life is a precious gift that we must use to care for each other. Finally, as we remember, let us, on this anniversary of violence, say a prayer for peace in our troubled world.

Robert B. Walker, M.D., is a professor and former chair of family and community health at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and director of the Center for Healthy Aging at Marshall Health.

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