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Family, friends remember life and impact of Dr. Robert Bone – Main Street Media of Tennessee

Robert Carver Bone II speaks about his father during the funeral service at First Presbyterian Church. XAVIER SMITH 

Family and friends of Dr. Robert Carver Bone recalled fun times and life lessons learned from the longtime medical pioneer who reshaped the healthcare landscape in both Lebanon and Wilson County.

Bone, 87, died March 11 and left a legacy shaped by his love for helping others and unique ability to brainstorm and execute seemingly farfetched ideas.

A 1954 Lebanon High School valedictorian, magna cum laude graduate from Vanderbilt University and Lebanon’s first physician certified in two specialties only scratch the surface of Bone’s accomplishments.

“My dad was a peacemaker, and he was a collaborative man who lived a renaissance spirit of exploring the world and trying to bring what he saw to the community,” Robert Carver Bone II said.

“He loved people, and he cared about people. He was an incredible diagnostician. He could diagnose problems people were having just kind of by looking at them,” the doctor’s widow, Connie Bone, said.

Bone earned his medical degree in 1962 from Vanderbilt School of Medicine and decided to take a year off from school before deciding on a specialty and completing a residency. He accepted an aunt’s invitation to accompany her on a trip around the world that played a pivotal role in his life.

Bone II said because of his father’s yearlong trip and others that culminated in firsthand studies of healthcare systems around the world, he was able to bring that knowledge back to Lebanon.

“I think that helped the world appreciate what our values are,” he said. “I think that’s the beauty of who Dad is. He was just that type of person who was really collaborative and had an unwavering appreciation of people.”

Connie Bone said she recognized the doctor’s unique love for people coupled with unmatched forward thinking when the pair started dating. He told her that he owned two MRI machines that he would carry to counties east of Wilson County to serve and educate the residents and medical personnel, she said.

“It was in the very early stages. I remember sitting there thinking here’s a guy that has two MRI machines. Most men are proud of their golf carts or whatever, but he has MRI machines. I’m thinking, ‘What am I getting myself into?’ That’s an example of him being very forward thinking,” she said.

Bone’s forward thinking and desire for high-end medical service in Lebanon drove him to lead the push for a local hospital in the city.

“It took close to 10 years with the help of the best physicians, attorneys, bankers, politicians and even the prayers of a few preachers that got that hospital built and opened on April 1, 1979, which also happened to be Dr. Bone’s 43rd birthday,” longtime colleague and friend Pam Tomlinson said.

The hospital opened as the 65-bed private, nonprofit University Medical Center and is currently the 245-bed Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital.

“Having been in the room where a lot of it happened, I can say without a doubt that his many ties and close association with Vanderbilt’s leadership played a major role in Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital being the hospital here today,” Tomlinson said.

During a rough period in Cumberland’s history, the school was on the verge of shutting down and Bone, who ultimately ended up serving 60 years on the university’s board of trust, recognized the need to save the university.

“He worked so hard on that hospital to build it with the community and he didn’t even shutter to say they needed to (sell it and) take some of the funding and bail out Cumberland University,” Bone II said.

The move allowed Cumberland to return to a four-year accredited institution that currently continues to see record enrollment and offered courses.

“It’s really not an overstatement to say that Robert Carver Bone made Cumberland University what it is today,” Cumberland University President Paul Stumb said. “Not only that, but Dr. Bone is also responsible in no small measure for Cumberland University’s very existence today.”

Stumb said that encouraging words, advice and ideas from Bone continued when Stumb became an adjunct professor at the university in 2003 and president in 2015.

“He was always full of many exceptional ideas and maybe some not so exceptional,” Stumb said. “It’s truly not an overstatement to say that every time I was around Dr. Bone, I learned something new and interesting.”

Bone served 20 years as the board chairman and was also named chairman emeritus and life trustee of the board. He also co-founded the Bachelor of Science Nursing program with Jeanette Rudy.

A common theme among those that remembered Bone was his unique thinking ability and drive to bring his ideas to fruition.

“This man could come up with more ideas and things to do with people to get involved in helping him to them than anyone I have ever known,” Tomlinson said.

“There would always be some story where he would pull from his experience of traveling the world or something he read and he would always bring that back to the moment at hand,” Bone’s daughter, Bonnie Ramage, said.

Connie Bone said her husband always viewed current news as history and people were being eyewitnesses to history. She said he routinely would watch a lineup of news programming while simultaneously reading a few news articles about the same events.

Bone’s intelligence was also on display during Bible classes at Westminster Presbyterian Church, according to Rev. Guy Griffith.

“Having Robert in class was such a joy, but you quickly realized how unbelievably outclassed you are as a teacher,” said Griffith, who used an example of when the class studied Exodus, Moses and the Nile.

“Robert brought meticulous maps that he’d saved from the early 60s when he went on a trip around the world with his aunt,” Griffith said. “Every week there was something new that wasn’t in the curriculum that was an add-on for all of us there. Each class would be a new fascinating insight into scripture.”

Bone received several awards and recognitions for his accomplishments and dedication to healthcare, but Bone II said his father received end-of-life care from a nurse who happened to be a Cumberland University graduate.

Bone II said for many years he questioned why his father always returned to Lebanon, but said the answer became clear over time.

“It’s family. It’s values. It’s hometown. That’s where the soul of our society is – it’s in every little town in America. Dad was keen on maintaining that beauty and making things wonderful,” he said.

Pam Tomlinson, a longtime colleague and friend of Dr. Robert Bone, discusses the doctor’s work during his funeral service at First Presbyterian Church.