The Healing Spirit: Longtime Educator Leaves His Mark
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The Healing Spirit: Longtime Educator Leaves His Mark

For 35 years, Tom McGovern, Ed.D., has touched the souls of countless community members and students.

Written by Suzanna Cisneros

McGovern was recently presented with the peace pipe to honor his contributions to the university and community.

McGovern was recently presented with the peace pipe to honor his contributions to the university and community.

The peace pipe, an expression of individual and community healing, embodies spirituality and is widely respected by Native Americans. Recently, as the School of Medicine was set to honor Tom McGovern, Ed.D., a certificate or plaque did not seem fitting for a man so unique in his spiritual and educational contributions. Instead, he was presented with a peace pipe as a tribute to honor the impact he has had on so many individuals at TTUHSC.

“He is our medicine man, spiritual director, shaman for the School of Medicine, conscience of the school and spiritual healer,” said Terry McMahon, M.D., chairman of the Department of Psychiatry. “When things hit or tragedy occurs, Tom has always been there – leading discussions, worrying about everyone and pulling everyone together.”

Teaching From Experience

In his life McGovern has experienced the early death of his father and two young sisters. He spent a year in recovery from tuberculosis and also in his 40s began a journey of recovery from alcohol dependence.

“In my journey, I have been restored through the love and compassion of others, experiencing forgiveness, a sense of being alive with an ability to live life one day at a time,” McGovern, an Irishman, said. “Wounded healers continue to inspire and enrich my life.”

McGovern’s interest in people, especially those struggling with loss and drug dependency led him to a career as a counselor, teacher and mentor. McGovern came to Lubbock in the early 1960s and served for many years as a priest in various church communities including Christ the King Cathedral, St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, St. Francis Catholic Church in Wolfforth and San Ramon Catholic Church in Woodrow. Most of his energy was devoted to teaching and healing ministries in the community.

“I found my fountain of youth in teaching and service,” McGovern said recalling the old Irish folklore of the perennial quest for youth. “It keeps me forever young, especially in the interaction with young people of all ages. I have a life-long commitment to the common good and the well-being of communities. In a special way, I have espoused fairness and justice, a quality I inherited from my parents. We were a family of modest means and learned the importance of sharing at an early age.”

McGovern joined the School of Medicine in 1978 to help patients dealing with substance abuse in inpatient and outpatient settings, at St. Mary’s Hospital and the Department of Psychiatry.

He has been a constant advocate for the needs of people and families struggling with substance abuse disorders and has served on numerous boards and committees at local, state and national levels. He speaks with great affection of his time with the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, his time as a founding member of the hospice movement in Lubbock and also of his many years on the Lubbock Regional Mental Health and Mental Retardation board.

“It is a passion of mine, a dedication to people in recovery and families who struggle with it,” McGovern said. “Being in recovery myself, I am passionately dedicated to people with these issues.”

A Part of History

When McGovern arrived at the School of Medicine 35 years ago, Thompson Hall was the home of the school.

“I worked at Thompson Hall, looking out my back window to the Texas Tech academic campus, listening to the click of the bats from the baseball field,” McGovern said. “Moving here to the current building which was a shell to begin with and watching it grow to the full-fledged health sciences center it is, has been a great memory.

“But my favorite memories are with the individuals and families in their recovery from substance abuse disorders. To witness their recovery has been an amazing experience. Other treasured memories include life long friendships throughout the TTUHSC community and with generations of medical students and residents who continue to promote the healing mission of our community.”

McGovern has seen TTUHSC through many stages of growth and generations of medical students and residents.

McGovern has seen TTUHSC through many stages of growth and generations of medical students and residents.

Other memories stand out as McGovern recalls his more that 50 years in Lubbock. An avid Red Raider, he has been a faithful fan with special devotion to the football team and women’s basketball team. He recalls helping introduce soccer to Lubbock, and his time as a coach and player with the Texas Tech soccer team.

Thomas E. Tenner Jr., Ph.D., associate dean for Faculty Affairs and Development and a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Neurosciences, who has known him for more than 35 years, said McGovern has served as the peacemaker at TTUHSC.

“He sees the best in everybody and what TTUHSC can be. There was one time when this institution was facing possible budget cuts where faculty and staff positions might be eliminated and Tom stepped up and proposed the senior faculty take a 10 percent salary pay cut to lessen the impact,” Tenner said. “He is not afraid to be in intense meetings and make humble suggestions. He is the only person who has the conviction to say it.”

Common Voice

Lorenz Lutherer, M.D., Ph.D., executive director of the Clinical Research Institute, said McGovern has served as the voice of faculty and students.

“He has been the person to fight for faculty and students when changes were needed,” Lutherer said. “He is open to other ideas and respectful to every individual’s beliefs. He realizes a person’s differences and hones in on the good. He has a subtly about him, where people listen and act. Not many people have that quality. He encourages open conversation.”

McGovern’s ability to advocate for fairness signifies why he is the Giles McCrary/Tom McGovern Endowed Chair in Ethics/Humanities and serves as the director of the Center for Ethics, Humanities and Spirituality Lutherer said. The center addresses the overall needs of patients and families and the communities that provide health care.

The center’s outreach embraces TTUHSC and UMC Health System and communities of faith, other hospitals and nursing homes. McGovern pioneered the establishment of an interdisciplinary faculty that teaches future health care professionals about the ethical, humane and spiritual dimensions of healing.

“Addressing basic human needs, especially as one struggles with illness, disease and suffering is essential in healing,” McGovern said. “Ethics, especially clinical ethics, look to the best interest of patients and families and guides practitioners as well. Connecting to one’s spirituality opens a pathway to meaning, which in turn connects one with the divine. Prayer, meditation and reflection are important in the lives of many patients, and should be respected in the overall care of patients and their families.”

Spiritual Success

Eduardo Sandoval, a third-year medical student, said McGovern inspired him to become a better physician through his unique teaching style.

“You have the faculty who teach you the scientific side, but Dr. McGovern taught me the spiritual side of medicine – the guidance of healing the soul,” Sandoval said. “Even his mannerisms are calming. He speaks with such a peace. You instantly feel at peace. Learning from him was about principles, discipline, good habits to help heal the spirit through compassion, understanding, patience and cultural awareness. I am thankful to him for setting the example and not just teaching it.”

Honored with many awards throughout his career, McGovern was recently presented the Minnie Stevens Piper Professor Award. The statewide award honors professors each academic year for their dedication to the teaching profession and for their outstanding academic, scientific and scholarly achievement. This award is considered one of the most prestigious awards bestowed upon faculty in Texas. Only 10 professors receive the award each year among a pool of approximately 10,000 educators.

“He knows all the students and they respect him,” McMahon said. “Tom has a valued opinion of the students and views them as colleagues. He has done so much for this institution. If anyone ever needed his expertise or help, he would always step up.”

McGovern is often called upon to lead university members in memorials and prayer.

Considered by colleagues to be a spiritual director, McGovern is often called upon to lead university members in memorials and prayer.

Lasting Memories

Many may remember McGovern as the person who led memorials honoring faculty who passed away as well as leading invocations and benedictions at events. His spiritual faith has helped those in times of sadness and others in times of celebration.

“He used his experiences to help others,” Tenner said. “He has helped so many turn negatives into positives. His strength, his spiritual contribution is defined as inclusiveness of all people, all faiths and all cultures. When we see him at a memorial or an even, you look around and everyone is a part of it.”

McGovern will retire in August and move to California. He hopes to have more time with his wife Toni, daughter Elexia and granddaughter Mariluna. But, he hopes to continue working in many capacities including maintaining relationships with the TTUHSC and Lubbock communities he loves so deeply.

“Hopefully I have contributed to the well-being of our community, and yet I have received far more in return,” McGovern said. “Compassion is an essential quality of the human experience and I have tried to practice this virtue in all aspects of my life. To be compassionate is to be with another person in their journey, to stand with them in times of trouble and need. To a special degree it defines who we are.”

McGovern shares this Irish blessing at commencements and memorials, a tradition that many TTUHSC community members believe will be difficult to replace.

May the road rise up to meet you,

May the wind be always at your back,

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

And the rains fall soft upon your fields,

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

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Story produced by the Office of Communications and Marketing, (806) 743-2143.


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Since 1969, the School of Medicine has graduated more than 3,000 physicians. The school aims to provide quality lab space, recruit creative, innovative research faculty, and develop graduate students and postdoctoral fellows for lifelong careers in medical research.

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