In the past two posts I’ve talked about my dad, Ben Gibbs, as part of the Grandparents Series in At Home with Cheri. Today is the final installment about my dad’s life– but not the last you’ll hear about him! In a future post, I plan to share some of his thought-provoking philosophies on politics and economics.
Ben Gibbs: Career Success, Marriage, and Parenthood.
Ben’s hard work in UC San Francisco Medical School paid off. After graduating, he entered the Navy and did a rotating internship at Naval Hospital, San Diego, where he was selected as the most outstanding intern. After one year aboard a Navy submarine tender, he returned to NHSD for his surgical residency.
Here is Ben at about that time.
Ben spent several more years as a Navy surgeon, serving on the staffs of Portsmouth Naval Hospital, a few months aboard the USS New Jersey, and finishing out his military career as head of vascular surgery, Naval Hospital, San Diego. His Navy career took place during the Vietnam War. After his twelve years of active duty he entered private practice in 1972, but remained in the Navy reserve, retiring as Captain, USNR around 1980. During both his Navy and civilian practice he participated in teaching at UC San Diego, being appointed as Associate Clinical Professor of Surgery.
He has written papers on general surgery and vascular surgery topics. His interest in carotid artery surgery led to his eventual focus in that area, resulting in some landmark papers which may have influenced in that specialty.
Ben’s personal life was rockier than his medical career. He married his high school sweetheart, Carol Norman, at 22. He and Carol had three children.
In 1967 Carol died. This was devastating, as daughters Cheri and Laurie were just six and four, and son Kenny was two. At the time Ben was in the Navy, and shortly after Carol’s death he was transferred to Portsmouth, Virginia. Before moving across the country Ben married Donna Marie Wentz. They had two boys, Christian and Trey.
That marriage ended in divorce and Donna passed away in 1980. He then married Natalie Hubele, and that marriage also ended in divorce. He looks back on those days as difficult, but informative. He may not have been entirely at fault for the failure of those three marriages, but he willingly accepts some of the responsibility for poor choices.
In 1996, Ben married for a fourth time, to Jean Thielen, and acknowledges it was the best decision in his life.
Their happiness partially reflects his growing maturity, but he still gives Jean most of the credit. They have a daughter, Sarah, 13, who came along as a late and unexpected blessing.
As a dad, Ben took his kids on lots of camping trips, particularly to Cottonwood Cove at the Colorado River. As mentioned in the last post, he has a life-long love of flying, having learned to fly in his teens. He and the kids would pile in the plane and fly to a remote desert area with no automobile access and a dirt runway, and camp on the river shore. At night the wild burros would come to the water and disrupt the sleeping family, lined up in a row under the stars in their sleeping bags. Ben would reassure the kids not to worry. “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” There were also numerous trips to Baja California, flying in to beach landing strips, camping, and fishing from a Zodiac. And motorhome trips to the Colorado River and Bitterroot River in Montana.
Eventually, he would own a vacation log cabin on the same river.
Ben is proud of his kids. “They are all great communicators. Youngest daughter Sarah plays the piano and shows great poise when she performs at church. Daughters Cheri and Laurie are eloquent public speakers. Son Kenny is the Singing Fireman of Los Angeles, and sings the National Anthem at ballgames. Son Christian, a musician and music writer with several CD’s, was in the Broadway musical “Passing Strange”. Son Trey writes poetry, showing talent, humor, and sensitivity. I have interesting kids. The fact that all my kids are so talented makes me question their paternity,” he says, tongue in cheek. “A man never knows for sure.”
When asked how he wants to be remembered, he says, “I’ve written some pretty good philosophical articles in letters to my friends and kids. Most discuss the importance of individual responsibility and libertarian philosophy. I try to ask questions and have people come to my way of thinking on their own. As a result, I’ve been persuasive.”
When asked how life today is different from when he was a child, Ben has a lot to say. “Life was very different. We had no concept of television. Most people had only a radio. We had one bathroom, and clothes were washed by hand or in a ringer washing machine. We had ice boxes rather than refrigerators. The ice man would come to put ice in the icebox. When I was in high school we got a black and white TV. We would watch I Love Lucy, Ronald Reagan’s Borax show, Ed Sullivan, Sergeant Friday, Bonanza. Today, even the poorest among us have a TV, a refrigerator and a washer and dryer. The level of poverty has constantly risen. When I was a kid, the poor had nothing to eat. Today’s poor would have been considered middle class when I was a kid. But in today’s standards, I would have been considered poor as a kid. And my dad would NEVER have thought of accepting food stamps. He had pride and believed that hard work led to success.”
Like his dad before him, Ben’s hard work has paid off. Today he lives on two acres with a small vineyard in Walla Walla, Washington. He enjoys pruning the grapes, making wine, investing in the stock market, philosophizing with friends, traveling and visiting family, and spending time with his wife Jean and daughter Sarah. He has made a difference in the field of medicine and to those around him by sharing his philosophies. He has had, and continues to have, a fulfilling life.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Ben Gibbs. In an upcoming post I will share some of his political philosophies— which are bound to get you thinking!