'Magnificent losers' still achieve victory
Americans are obsessed with winners, a sentiment famously celebrated in the gung-ho maxim "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."
But IS it "the only thing?" asks Dr. Gregg Coodley in his debut book, intriguingly titled "Magnicent Losers."
Coodley will read from the newly published book of short historical biographies on Tuesday, Sept. 12, at 7 p.m. at Annie Bloom's Books in Multnomah Village (7834 S.W. Capitol Highway). Coodley is known to many in Southwest Portland as the founder of the Fanno Creek Clinic in Hillsdale. He has also spearheaded efforts at public health reforms and civic improvements.
In an interview, Coodley noted that while he has experienced success, he is no stranger to losing. In the medical profession, of course, winning — and ultimately losing — comes with the territory. While doctors notch many victories over disease and injuries, death ultimately wins out.
Only one doctor, Joseph Warren, appears among Coodley's 20 "Magnicent Losers," but Warren's inclusion has little to do with his being a physician and more with being a general. Had he not been killed in the Battle of Bunker Hill, Warren would certainly be remembered as one of the revered founders of the new American nation.
Warren and the other "Magnicent Losers" are, as the book's subtitle states, "...unsuccessful reformers, revolutionaries and fighters for freedom and justice." Each of the chapters is devoted to a "magnicent loser" and his or her cause. In every case, the person profiled clearly succeeded in leadership and drew avid followers.
To that extent, they were "winners" even as they lost.
Some will be familiar to students of American history. Henry Clay, who lost three presidential campaigns and died before his cause to end slavery was achieved; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who never lived to see the women's suffrage movement victorious; the reformer and socialist Eugene Debs, who would not witness the rise of powerful industrial unions; and the renowned Indian chief Tecumseh, who died fighting a losing cause against the white settlers' invasion of Native lands.
Other profiled "losers" are less well known, though their causes are equally inspiring. All deserve honor for their dignity and bravery even in defeat.
Originally, Coodley himself knew nothing about many of the people he ultimately included in his book. Friends and family, learning of the book idea, offered candidates for consideration — so many, in fact, that Coodley had to end with the early 20th Century.
"But there's potentially a sequel," he says.
Among those under consideration are Al Gore, he says, explaining that "I tried to pick people who are interested in more than themselves. I chose people whose causes I believe in."
Coodley says that even as a child, he was drawn to history. "Writing the book was a return to an old love," he says, adding that ge was taken with writing about "losers" because among thousands of history books, no one seems to have chosen the topic.
The theme also echoed an experience in his own family. His dad lost a bid for a seat on the Los Angeles School Board. The magnificence of the loss was that in the early 1960s, his dad stood up against a McCarthy-era requirement that teachers take loyalty oaths. Closer to home, in the mid-1990s, Coodley chaired a local committee charged with coming up with a Capitol Highway Plan. While improvements have been made in the historic road, a quarter of a century has gone by with much in the plan unfullled.
At the clinic, he often finds himself in professional struggles "against unjust decisions" — often made by insurance companies, he says. He takes pride in the clinic, which has served 50,000 patients and provides jobs for 60 people. At a time when health care for the needy is endangered, about 50 percent of the clinic's patients are covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
While Coodley wrote fantasy stories for his children when they were growing up, he had no experience taking on a book.
"Writing a book is hard," he says, noting that he was forced to cut more than 40,000 words from his original 153,000-word manuscript. But he found joy in his self-imposed challenge.
"I liked learning about the characters in the book and 'taking a long view' of history," he says. "History moves back and forth. It's a pendulum. Defeat doesn't mean you have to give up."
Coodley considers himself an optimist. In his long view of history, he says, "poverty has dropped, illiteracy has dropped. We are coming closer to treating each person equally."
Readers of Coodley's book learn that credit for such progress deservedly goes to history's magnicent losers.