Thursday, September 30, 1999

Honest effort to protect Sabin legacy

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Is it good enough? Big enough? Is it better than what we already have?

        Children's Hospital Medical Center announced Tuesday it will name its new education and conference center after Dr. Albert B. Sabin. (Wednesday story). Heloisa Sabin, his widow, first heard the idea earlier this month at a luncheon held by Delta Air Lines.

        The connection is not lost on her.

        The airline has agreed to spend $30 million for naming rights to the proposed expansion of the Albert B. Sabin Convention Center, a key piece of the precarious financing. Public outcry was immediate, although Delta officials professed eagerness to preserve the “dignity” of the good doctor's name.

        And — it must be said — their own.

A black eye
        The company would hardly want to spend millions of dollars on a black eye. People here remember the braces, the iron lungs. And the man who made them obsolete.

        When she first read about the plan to rename the convention center, Barbara Leyda of Montgomery wrote, “Sometimes I want to smack the powers that be right upside the head. But it wouldn't hurt. I'd use my left arm — the one stricken with polio at the age of 18 months.”

        This is an emotional issue, particularly to Dr. Sabin's widow.

        Children's Hospital CEO Jim Anderson notified her of the hospital's decision. “As you will remember,” his letter reads, “that is the new building currently being built facing Burnet Avenue which joins several of our buildings together and will house our most up-to-date and substantial education and conference facilities.”

        Heloisa Sabin remembers.

Floating an idea
        She toured the hospital and site for the new building after the luncheon where the idea first was floated. She met several young doctors. “Their enthusiasm was so like Albert's.” She noticed that the building would be visible from the street and from the center's main entrance.

        She doesn't miss much.

        “I can't promise anything officially,” the hospital CEO told her then. “I have to bring this to my board.” Which he did Monday to “unanimous and enthusiastic” approval.

        “The idea really appeals to me,” Mrs. Sabin says. “It is not bigger, but it is better. I think Albert would be pleased.”

        Jim Anderson says the name “is something that will build our reputation. When we're recruiting, we keep coming back to what Sabin did here. We talk about him all the time. His name is a reminder of the global impact this institution can have.”

        So, what about his name on a building for conventioneers?

        The naming deal assures that Delta's name would appear on maps, brochures, pamphlets and meeting notices even if the name is the Delta-Sabin Center or the Sabin-Delta Center or the Sabin Convention Center sponsored by Delta Air Lines.

        “It is that commercial link that I believe Albert would not like,” she says.

        So, you'd rather see his name removed from the building entirely?

        “Yes. I think that is what Albert would want, too.”

        Who's to say what might have happened if this charming woman had not been so fiercely protective of “what Albert would want”? Would community leaders have convened around that luncheon table on Sept. 9 if Mrs. Sabin were not such a poignant reminder that some names are not for sale?

        Cincinnati City Councilman Todd Portune said he would reject any change “if Dr. Sabin's presence here is diminished.”

        John Williams, president of the Chamber of Commerce, asked, “If we were starting fresh, what is the most logical tie?”

        I watched Jim Anderson, fiddling with his fork, thinking. And the Delta official who flew to Washington so that Mrs. Sabin “could put a face on our company.”

        Decent people. Good citizens. They were looking for answers.

        It appears they found one.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears regularly on WVXU-FM (91.7), National Public Radio's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.