Nick Greene was a friend, mentor and guardian of the discipline known as anesthesiology. To say that Nick was unique in so many ways just begins to describe this man who sustained an unblemished academic career throughout his professional life and into his final days. The list of his accomplishments is impressive, and the terms and extent of his service are remarkable, but these accounts and lists of contributions can be found elsewhere. We wish to focus on Nick as we knew him best, as our anchor and Editor-in-Chief, the individual who laid the foundation for the recent development of Anesthesia & Analgesia from a relatively obscure publication to arguably the most highly respected clinical journal in the field.
First, let us consider the impact of Nick the man. After all, it is the writer who makes the story. Nick was, above all else, convinced that the only way for anesthesiology to grow in stature as a specialty, and to emerge from its modest beginnings as a purely clinical practice, was for anesthesiologists to do meaningful and rigorous research. His enduring passion was to prove that anesthesiologists belonged in the university setting along with all other disciplines (1,2). One could not simply declare this, however; one had to prove it. Proving it was accomplished by earning the regard of other academicians through the hard work, creativity, and determination to conduct research of interest to everyone, not just to anesthesiologists. Nick was unrelenting in his insistence on hypothesis-driven research that extended far beyond the narrow interests formerly confining anesthesiology. If we were to select the most valuable lesson of the many we learned from Nick, it would be the importance of designing, conducting, and disseminating work that reaches beyond traditional boundaries to lift all of science.
Those of us who served with him on editorial boards marveled at the time Nick devoted to “getting it right.” As Editor-in-Chief he would remind “his editors” that any paper to be published must meet three immutable criteria: 1) originality, 2) importance, and 3) clarity. Of these three, it was to clarity that he personally attended most vigorously, regardless of who had written or edited the manuscript. Every single paper submitted to “his journal” was hand-edited by the maestro himself. Thus, the journals for which Nick served as Editor-in-Chief had a very clear, direct, unmistakable style, and every author fortunate enough to work with him undoubtedly continues to maintain a folder full of Nick’s carefully edited manuscripts as a guide to scientific writing at its best. Conversely, Nick also had the reputation of writing “rejected manuscript” letters that actually made the unfortunate authors feel good. He was, indeed, a very kind and thoughtful person.
Another remarkable, often controversial, and certainly challenging aspect of being one of Nick’s editors was that of enduring, if not embracing, his unchangeable belief that anesthesiologists were just that—anesthesiologists. We were not permitted to rest comfortably in our sub-subspecialist roles. Thus, cardiac anesthesiologists were required to review obstetrical anesthesia papers, and all protests were answered by “If you don’t understand it, how can anybody else?” So we spent our time reviewing papers not focused on our own narrow areas of expertise but encompassing the broad horizon of anesthesia. Through this process we learned, and perhaps we helped others along the way. That was Nick’s intent.
A fond remembrance of Nick’s annual editorial meetings was the process through which new editors were chosen. Nick always had a portable blackboard on hand for this project. A long list of names appeared on the front, and one by one, through a process that only our leader could truly divine, we would condense the field to our final selections by slowly erasing names. It was widely believed, but never proven, that if his chalk board were turned around there would be the same final names on the back of the board; Nick always got the editors of his choice. This is not to say that there were no elements of democracy in these meetings, but Nick was skillful and devoted to shaping the future of his journal through the rigorous and well-planned selection of editors. He unerringly navigated a direct course of progress in every endeavor he pursued. So it is perhaps in this context that we will remember him most fondly—the complex role of friend, mentor, and leader played flawlessly by this gifted Editor-in-Chief. Nick Greene was, quite simply, a man of words for whose memory no words can truly do justice. He will be greatly missed.
1. Greene NM. Anesthesiology and the university. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1975.
2. Reves JG, Greene NM. Anesthesiology and the academic medical center: place and promise at the start of the new millennium. International Anesthesiology Clinics, v. 38, Spring. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.