This article was originally published in "In the Loop."
When the iconic Plummer Building was constructed on Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus during the late 1920s, the building's designer and namesake, Henry S. Plummer, M.D., made sure it included a number of bas relief caricatures that would help root the building in place and time. There's a Viking ship (a nod to Minnesota's Scandinavian heritage), an early motor boat (appropriate for the Land of 10,000 Lakes) and St. George, the patron saint of England, Dr. William Worrall Mayo's homeland.
Then there are the sculptures of a dejected-looking donkey and a triumphant elephant — symbols of a contentious presidential election (sound familiar?) between Democrat Al Smith and Republican Herbert Hoover. Dr. Plummer, it turns out, was a staunch Republican. His good friend, John Raskob, was then chair of the Democratic National Committee (and later one of the chief financiers behind another iconic building). The figures symbolize that election's results, and also represent a "friendship carved in stone here on the Plummer building," Matt Dacy told KIMT-TV which ran a story on the building's "political past" (KIMT-TV story no longer avaialable). (Dacy, director of Mayo Clinic Heritage Hall, tells us Dr. Plummer and Raskob "had honest differences of opinion, but more important was what they had in common: they both wanted a good life for the American people, and both believed in the promise of America." (That's a platform we can get behind.)
Mayo's connection to the presidency goes far beyond commemorating the 1928 election, however. The institution has enjoyed "a bipartisan, nonpolitical relationship with the White House since the days of Abraham Lincoln," Dacy says, noting that presidents, vice presidents and their families have all been "loyal patients, trusted advisers and generous benefactors" of Mayo Clinic.
Many of these friendships are highlighted in the video "Mayo Clinic and the White House: Caring for America's First Families" (narrated by another loyal Mayo patient and adviser, Tom Brokaw). There are stories of presidential trips to Rochester, and house calls to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. (One Mayo physician was at the White House so frequently that he kept clothes in a closet there.) Another physician, Dr. George Eusterman, was invited to bring his family to the White House to celebrate New Year's Eve with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Afterward, Dr. Eusterman wrote to Mrs. Roosevelt that "you are a great favorite with all of us, and we always think of you as 'Aunt Eleanor.'"
The correspondence between Washington and Rochester traveled both ways, with many physicians receiving notes from their presidential patients, including Ronald Reagan. "I am convinced that Mayo Clinic is the finest institution of its kind in all the world," Reagan wrote in a 1989 letter to Oliver Beahrs, M.D. "It is not only tops in the care it provides but also in the warmth and kindness of all those who serve there."
And that, Dacy says, is the heart of the connection between Mayo Clinic and the White House. "Presidents are also people who have health issues, whose family members have health issues," he notes. And when those issues arise, presidents are no different from the rest of us. They want to be treated with respect and human dignity, Dacy says, which is something Mayo Clinic has long offered people of all political stripes.