Ann Arbor native Brian Schatz named U.S. senator for Hawaii
AP Photo I Audrey McAvoy
Schatz, the lieutenant governor of Hawaii, was appointed as the next U.S. senator for Hawaii Wednesday by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, after the death of Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, 88.
Inouye was one of Hawaii's first senators. He went to Washington D.C. in 1959, the year Hawaii became a state, and was the first Japanese American to be elected to both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
While Schatz was busy flying across the country, from Honolulu to the Capitol Wednesday night, aboard Air Force One with President Barack Obama, his old neighbors in Ann Arbor recalled their childhood friend and sent their well wishes.
The newly appointed senator left Ann Arbor when he was just 2 years old. His father, Irwin Schatz, worked as a cardiologist at the University of Michigan hospital. Irwin and the family relocated to Honolulu around 1975, so he could take a job with the University of Hawaii.
The Schatzes had four children, including Brian and his twin brother, Steve, making them perfect playmates for the Dubins, another family with four kids.
"We were just a tiny bit older," said Kathy Dubin Flynn, who was among the oldest of the neighborhood bunch and babysit for the Schatz twins when she was 9.
When word of the Hawaiian appointment reached the mitten state, Flynn said her first thought was: "I used to change his diapers."
"We were all the ride-your-bikes-around-the-neighborhood kind of buddies," Flynn said. "We lived near the corner of Norway (Road) and Austin (Avenue), and the Schatzes lived on Austin. Their yard was right behind ours.
"The four parents constructed a little walkway from their backyard to our backyard. I believe it's still there. I have lots of fond memories from those days," she said.
The Dubins and the Schatzes still keep in touch via Christmas cards and letters, and the parents have remained close through the years. In the late 1970s, the Dubins and another family of old neighbors visited the Schatzes in Honolulu.
"(Brian's) mom and dad came back to Ann Arbor for all of us kids' weddings, too," Flynn said, speaking highly of the family. "They are the type of people who have always been there for my parents."
Having a big impact at a young age runs in Schatz's family.
In 1965, as a young cardiologist living in Detroit, Irwin Schatz sent a letter to the U.S. Public Health Service questioning the ethics of a major, 40-year national health study: "The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male."
The controversial Tuskegee study — named such because it was conducted in Tuskegee, Ala., starting in 1932 — initially involved 600 African American men, 399 who had syphilis, according to reports.
Reports show the study was done without the men's consent and that even though penicillin was discovered to cure most forms of the disease, the researchers elected not to treat the men but rather to watch the course of the disease play out to better understand it.
Irwin Schatz was the only doctor in the U.S. to protest and speak out against the study. And he did so just four years after graduating from medical school.
According to an article in the Star Bulletin on Schatz from 2009, six or seven years after the Tuskegee study was uncovered, a Wall Street Journal reporter stumbled upon Irwin Schatz's letter in a file at the U.S. Centers for Disease. A series of media reports and public outcry followed, the Star Bulletin wrote.
Irwin Schatz was honored as a "medical hero" in 2009 and received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Mayo Clinic for his courage in questioning the ethics of the syphilis study.
Irwin Schatz told the Star Bulletin in its 2009 article that he was "incensed" when he learned of the Tuskegee study: "I couldn't believe doctors did this."
The Star Bulletin reported the doctor who nominated Irwin Schatz for the award said in his nominating letter: "(Schatz) was a young physician at the time, and criticizing an investigation which was overseen by some of the leading figures in the (U.S.) Public Health Service was an action that was, to say the very least, potentially harmful to his career."
- Read the complete article on Irwin Schatz in the Star Bulletin here.
Brian Schatz, now 40, will be sworn in to the office of the U.S. Senate Thursday. Aside from serving in the public sector, Schatz founded a nonprofit organization, Youth for Environmental Service. He also was the chief executive officer of Helping Hands Hawaii, a nonprofit social service group.
A blog in the Washington Post online predicts Schatz could emerge as a leader in the Senate on the issue of climate change. The Post highlighted how Schatz called climate change "the most urgent challenge of our generation" when accepting the nomination on Wednesday.
Schatz posted this on Twitter Wednesday: "I'm honored to serve the people of the state of Hawaii. No one can fill Senator Daniel K. Inouye's shoes, but we will all try to walk in his footsteps together. Thanks so much to everyone for the outpouring of aloha. I will work hard, and I won't let you down. Thanks everyone."