Bob Fleming was enjoying a relaxing Christmas dinner some years back with family when one of his children decided to stir things up by asking a question she already knew the answer to. How much, she goadingly asked, did Fleming think his Olympic gold medal and ring were worth? Fleming had received the treasures while serving as chair of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Committee when the U.S. men's hockey team pulled off their "Miracle on Ice" victory against the Soviet Union during the 1980 games.
In Fleming's traditional Canadian manner, he tried shying away from the question. But his daughter persisted, needling him to guess a number until he finally did. That number was way off, his daughter said, before shooting back with what she'd known from the start: One of the players from that team had recently sold his gold medal on Ebay for considerably more. Not only that, but the estate of the late Herb Brooks, who coached the U.S. Men's Hockey team to their famed victory, had auctioned off his gold ring for a nice chunk of change.
The next day, after the shock had worn off, Fleming took the two things that, up until then, had "just been sitting" on his desk and put them inside a safe deposit box at his bank, only taking them out for Miracle on Ice-related speaking engagements. But as the years went on, rather than sell them as others had, Fleming began to wonder if there might be a better home for his medal and ring — one that would allow them to been seen and enjoyed by anyone who wanted to share in that piece of our nation's history.
Three immediate possibilities came to mind.
The first was Fleming's alma mater, the University of Minnesota. The second was U.S. Hockey. And the third was Mayo Clinic, where Fleming had worked from 1950 to 1993, including a tenure as vice president and chief administrative officer from 1982 to 1993, where he was directly involved in the establishment of Mayo's campuses in Arizona and Florida, the integrations of Saint Marys Hospital and Rochester Methodist Hospital with Mayo Clinic, and the establishment of Mayo Clinic Health System and Mayo Clinic Ventures.
After careful consideration, Fleming chose Mayo Clinic.
And so earlier this fall, Fleming's gold medal and ring officially found a new home in Mayo Clinic's Heritage Hall in Rochester. Robert Nesse, M.D., acting executive dean for Development, and Jeff Bolton, vice president, Administration, Mayo Clinic, say the donation not only represents one more in Fleming's "mile-long" list of contributions to Mayo Clinic, but also Mayo's underlying fundamental value of teamwork. "The (Miracle on Ice) victory exemplified the best of team play, hard work, group excellence," Dr. Nesse said in his remarks at a dedication ceremony attended by Fleming and his family. "The gold medal and ring are powerful symbols of the value of teamwork … and are also a testament to the commitment to excellence and the relationships that Bob Fleming and others members of the Mayo staff have had that really changed the world."
Much like that little U.S. Men's-hockey-team-that-could did back in 1980.