Yesterday, my former pediatrician passed away. Dr. Belt was a very nice man. Having him as my doctor when I was a kid transpired into a long friendship between our families. As a young adult, he became my grandfather figure and worked with me on my tennis game.
“You’re too nice. Don’t hit the ball to me,” he would say as we played on a court at his country club. “Girls are too nurturing, you must kill the ball, kill it!”
Not exactly the advice you would expect from one of the kindest men on the planet. Dr. Belt was surprisingly strategic. Throughout our tennis matches, I discovered a side to his personality that had not been formerly disclosed: he was a fierce competitor. I was drawn to the net only to be spoofed by a lob that dropped in the back corner. Advantage: Dr. B.
“You want to be ruthless on the court, don’t take it personally.”
At the time, it felt rude to make this man run all over the court. But he was elevating my game, and I, his. These life lessons seemed to come from an unlikely source. But I listened, carefully. As his prodigy, he had me tapping into a killer instinct that I didn’t realize I possessed.
Unbeknownst to me until recently, Dr. Belt had served in the NAVY after 3 semesters of undergrad pre-med at Indiana University. He went through some basic medical training with the NAVY and was assigned a position as a pharmacist mate aboard the aircraft carrier USS TICONDEROGA.
Serving mainly in the Pacific campaign, his ship was part of the Battle of Okinawa. During his long deployment in and around Japan, he witnessed the USS MISSOURI leaving Tokyo Bay not long after the official signing of the Japanese surrender from its deck.
“Strike true, don’t make it easy for me.”
Dr. Belt taught me as much about playing killer tennis as he did about life. I was on the other side of the net not taking personally his shots intended to run me all over the court. I quickly dished out what he was serving.
“Good. Keep it up.”
Score: Love – Love.
Thanks to Doug Clanin for interviewing Jim in 1994 for the Veteran’s Project / Library of Congress.