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Feb. 17—Dr. Bernard Lown will be remembered as a humanitarian, for his work on the invention of the defibrillator and his activism for world peace. To the people of the Twin Cities, he'll be remembered as a hometown hero.
Lown died Tuesday at age 99. The Boston Globe reported the Lithuania-born doctor's health had been declining from congestive heart failure. He died in his Boston-area home.
Former Lewiston Mayor Laurent F. Gilbert Sr. said the death of Lown was not only a great loss to family and friends, but to humanity as well.
Lown, who was raised in Lewiston and was University of Maine graduate, was born in Lithuania in 1921. He moved to Lewiston in 1935 at age 14, escaping Lithuania with his family, and graduated from Lewiston High School in 1938. He received his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.
According to the Associated Press, Lown, a Massachusetts cardiologist who invented the first reliable heart defibrillator in 1962, later co-founded an anti-nuclear war group that was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
He was also an outspoken social activist, founding Physicians for Social Responsibility in 1960 and later co-founding International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in the 1980s.
He returned to his adopted hometown to see state bridge No. 3330, known as South Bridge between Lewiston and Auburn, become the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge in 2008.
Gilbert said he and friend Al Harvie pushed for the dedication of the bridge in the doctor's name and eventually they became personal friends of the Lown family.
Gilbert, who was mayor of Lewiston at the time, reached out to Lown to get his permission to use his name for the Dr. Bernard Lown Peace Bridge.
"He said, 'I would be honored' and he said, 'Drop the doctor — just the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge,'" Gilbert recalled. "In the naming of the bridge, he and I and Al Harvie developed a real friendship with him, his wife. In the summertime, he would come up to Sebago Lake and we would meet there. He cared about people. I will tell ya you could write several pages about him."
Lown told the Sun Journal during the dedication of the bridge that he took issue with how much money is going toward the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while needs are left unfunded at home. It costs $500,000 to fire one Tomahawk missile in Afghanistan, Lown said, the same amount it costs to build 20 schools there. Which, he asked the audience of about 200, paves the way to peace?
"I am therefore proud that my hometown is celebrating peace," he said. "I thank you for honoring me in such a meaningful way."
At Lown's alma mater UMaine, he is known as an influential role model.
"Dr. Lown was a tremendous humanitarian whose vision, innovation and passion made this world a better place and inspired us all," University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said Tuesday. "The Maine native and UMaine alumnus was known for his leadership and values, and has been a role model for generations of UMaine students. His good work changed lives — and will live on."
"Without question, Dr. Lown was one of the most influential UMaine alumni of all time," University of Maine Alumni Association President/CEO John Diamond said. "Each year we honor an individual or couple with our Dr. Bernard Lown Humanitarian Award, which celebrates those who, like Dr. Lown himself, 'actively engage in saving lives, relieving suffering, and promoting human dignity.' Those qualities define Dr. Lown and his legacy. We are saddened by his passing but grateful for his extraordinary life."
Lown, who was a professor at Harvard University and a physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, had helped advance cardiac treatment. He'd been among the first doctors to emphasize the importance of diet and exercise in treating heart disease and introduced the drug Lidocaine as a treatment for arrhythmia, the Globe reports.
Dora Ann Mills, chief health improvement officer for Maine Health, said Dr. Lown is well known throughout Maine's medical community.
Mills first met him when she was a student at Harvard Medical School where he was giving a lecture. She left that lecture impressed with his knowledge and his concern for the well-being of his patients and fellow man.
"He was such a renowned physician on so many levels," Mills said. "He was a pioneer in the area of health care that teaches us that health care is not just about taking care of an individual patient, but the larger community and the world as a whole."
Mills said she admired Lown not just for his medical skills but for his passion for leading the effort to fight the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
"To go from being a renowned cardiologist to inventing the heart defibrillator to being the founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility ... it's just remarkable," Mills said in a Tuesday evening telephone interview.
The Globe reported Lown will be buried privately but the family, which includes his three children and a number of grandchildren, will announce a public memorial service later.