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Dynamic Chiropractic – December 16, 2010, Vol. 28, Issue 26

In Remembrance: Russell W. Gibbons

By John Willis, MA, DC

Russell W. Gibbons, the unassuming and courteous founding editor and editor emeritus of Chiropractic History, passed away on Sept. 24, 2010. Mr. Gibbons was one of the few (like Walter I. Wardwell, PhD, and Joseph C. Keating, PhD) referred to by the late Joseph P. Mazzarelli, DC, former ICA president, as a "chiropractic watcher."

The lack of scholarship in the field of chiropractic history spurred him to become a founding member of the Association for the History of Chiropractic, founding editor of its journal, conference organizer and presenter, as well as a role model for aspiring chiropractic historians, young and old.

Gibbons' efforts to make Chiropractic History a "serious" journal of history was echoed in a review published in the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association: "The historians who have bothered with any attempt to explore its (chiropractic's) beginnings have largely written for the true believers in the insular community of practitioners, patients and friendly politicians that emerged with the culture of chiropractic."

Russ Gibbons presented the history of chiropractic in an academic world that, if not hostile, was at least indifferent. Because of who he was outside of the chiropractic world, he helped open doors at such diverse sites as the Smithsonian, the American Association for the History of Medicine, the United Steelworkers of America (for whom he worked), the American Museum of National History and the Popular Culture Association.

He was the son of a chiropractor (Walter E. Gibbons, DC, PSC) and knew much of the profession's history both through study and through living it. However, it was his inordinate skill with words, oral and written, that provided opportunities and influenced people and the organizations to which they belonged. The quality of his writing, even his personal correspondence, made his craft seem almost facile. Despite his obvious natural abilities, his craftsmanship could only have been developed through effort, care and self-control.

Gibbons' early work was particularly significant. "Chiropractic History: Lost, Strayed or Stolen" was a provocative paper that provided a launch point for further study and was reprinted by groups such as Palmer College's student council as a primer for soon-to-be doctors. Another paper, "Insularity: Chiropractic's Potential Terminal Malady," helped ignite a generation of researchers, writers and especially thinkers. From this latter paper, published in theAmerican Chiropractic Association's journal, comes some of his most touching praise, prescient warning, and optimistic challenges:

"Many of these observers are not partisans of the institutionalized health complex...but their criteria for excellence is demanding, and their judgments and conclusions will not be influenced by pleas that yours is a profession which has sustained three quarters of a century of opposition and prejudice and economic discrimination, notwithstanding the justification of these realities of your history. ...all (are) hinged upon your interior performance as mature, responsible, and conscientious health care providers. You are entrusted with a dramatic history and a worthy trust."

The majority of Gibbons' life was spent outside of the chiropractic profession, primarily in his chosen profession of organized labor and also with his multitude of causes and interests. Russell Gibbons, while a significant part of chiropractic as a writer and editor and recipient of the Association for the History of Chiropractic's Lee-Homewood Chiropractic Heritage Award, played many decidedly different roles.

A graduate of Ohio Northern University, an army veteran, a newspaper editor, a press secretary for a congressman, director of communications and public relations for the United Steelworkers of America, teacher at Penn State University and Community College of Allegheny County, president of the Battle of Homestead Foundation and the Dr. Frederick Cook Society, on-site expert in Greenland for a movie concerning the race to the North Pole, and a husband and father, Russ Gibbons lived a fruitful and fulfilling life hardly noticed or acknowledged by the chiropractic profession.

During the peak of his post-USW retirement, he edited six or more journals with his hallmark professionalism and passion. In addition, he wrote papers, brochures and flyers, and served a number of nonprofits such as the Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and Just Harvest. Russ Gibbons was a prodigious worker, despite his uncanny ability with words. His family and his words will remain his enduring legacy.

As Kim Gibbons, Russ's daughter, said at the memorial mass, "To eulogize a man like Russ Gibbons should be an easy task. There is certainly enough material to make things more than interesting." In fact, there is too much information. There is a book and more. And there is too much emotion.

As a "chiropractic watcher" and historian, Russell Gibbons was and remains a gift to the chiropractic profession, a man who helped us see ourselves in a different manner, warts and all, and yet without insularity or insecurity. Instead, he helped us see ourselves as a profession and a people who are imperfect as other professions and other people, and who must seek to be "mature, responsible, and conscientious" because we have a "dramatic history and a worthy trust."

Dr. John Willis took over as editor of Chiropractic History in 1996, assuming responsibilities from Russell Gibbons, who founded the publication 16 years earlier.

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