“I leave you with a quote by George Eliot, 'It is never too late to be what you might have been.'”
Eddie Bernice Johnson
“INVENTIVE, INSPIRED ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE...”
Suzanne Insook Ahn M.D. succumbed to lung cancer on June 22, 2003 in spite of never having smoked. Skilled neurologist, dedicated advocate for social justice, thoughtful philanthropist, and prolific inventor, she was born in 1952, attended Booneville Elementary School in Arkansas, then graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler Texas, The University of Texas-Austin and U.T. Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.
Advancing civil rights and social justice for Asian Americans was a battle she fought with great passion and courage. She founded both the Dallas Summit and the Asian American Forum, and served on many boards including the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners, Texas Air Quality Board, National Board of Girls Inc., Women's Center of Dallas, DeGolyer Library of Women of the Southwest and The Hockaday School.
Following is the text of an extraordinarily insightful and moving speech Ahn delivered to the Asian American Journalists Association on August 9, 2002, on the occasion of her endowing a prize in journalism.
Knowing that most of your parents are Asian Americans, I suspect that many of them wanted you to be doctors. Six members of my immediate family are doctors. As doctors, we affect one patient at a time. You, as journalists, can affect the whole society. You are the messengers, but more than that, you determine which messages are delivered. You can change the way people think.
Despite never having smoked, I was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. I met my worst fear that my children will grow up without a Mom. I am preparing my children by giving them all the love, self-esteem and self-confidence to last them a lifetime.
I have had many obstacles all my life. It wasn't easy being the only Asian American girl in the first grade in Arkansas in 1959 or being a teenager in Tyler, Texas in the 1960's. I was always made to feel that I was different, that I was out of place, that I was not a real American, but a visitor or foreigner. It wasn't easy to go to medical school in the early 70's, and it wasn't easy to go into private practice in the early 80's. Now, even with my successes and my wealth, I am reminded every day that I am not white.
Racism is poison. It can be an annoyance or an indignity, and sometimes, it can destroy people's careers as in the case of Dr. Wen Ho Lee or even destroy people's lives as in the case of Vincent Chen. Racism can dampen the human spirit; it can dash your dreams.
Not until I was an adult, did I discover an American history that was missing from the textbooks in public schools. I learned that just as Europeans migrated to the eastern shores of America, my Asian ancestors migrated to the western shores of America over 200 years ago. I learned that my ancestors came to California in 1848 for the Gold Rush and built the transcontinental railroads in the 1870's. I claim America. I am home. I belong - just like other foreign-born Americans like Bob Hope and Elizabeth Taylor.
With so little precious time left, I see clarity. I see what is important in life. What means most to me are the times spent with the people I love, the laughs and chuckles, the people who inspired me, the people who made me a better person.
I leave you with a quote by George Eliot, "It is never too late to be what you might have been."
Appointed Clinical Assistance Professor, Department of Neurology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School
Becomes Vice-President Corporate Affairs, President of Medical Division, Ball Semiconductor, Inc.
1952 (Died 2003)
University of Texas Southwestern Medical School