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Raising the Bar At 75 +

Dr. Ray Fay, Retired Urologist

This blog is the first in a series of honoring those seniors who have reached the age of 75 and are still achieving at an extraordinary rate. This story is about a retired urologist, Dr. Ray Fay, who has discovered his creative writing talent and has done the work to develop the skills it takes to bring joy and meaning to his life.

Ray has spent a career organizing and performing high-risk surgeries in pediatric medicine. For the last fourteen years of retirement, Ray’s life has centered on creating a lifestyle filled with joy.

Born in Shanghai in 1941, Ray’s first 18 months were spent in a Chinese chest hidden from the world. His parents had bored holes in the drawer so that he could breathe. He learned during that time to be surrounded by silence. If the outside world knew of his existence, he and his family would be killed. Silence assured that he was fed and taken care of. At six years of age, Ray and his family fled China with the aid of Americans. Although his family were wealthy merchants, Ray’s early family life was nomadic, not arriving in San Francisco until he was 12. Ray learned that self-reliance built on silence and isolation made one successful. Despite the amount of hostility heaped on the Chinese in San Francisco, and specifically on Ray in the medical community, Ray rose to the top of his medical profession.

This chosen work, dwelling in life and death decisions for children, required that he draw on his exceptional talents for research, creativity, intelligence, and the ability to focus.

Ray retired in 2009 with a reputation as one of the finest Chinese pediatric urologists in San Francisco. Yet, it was time and he looked forward to writing his memoirs. Having joined a writing club at his winter home in Indio, California, Ray began to experience the feeling of inadequacy. At each meeting of the club, each writer prepared a story to read to the group. Their feedback on Ray’s writing was devastating. Remarks flew at Ray:

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“Tell us your story in your own words. What happened?”

When he told his stories, he had an attentive audience. The group was overcome with emotion. This was the beginning of Ray’s writing career. He sought out help from his teacher and fellow writers. He began his education to become a writer. Within several years he published his memoir which captured his life in China through his career as a surgeon, the prejudice he endured as a Chinese doctor, and the successes he had with children whose life depended on his surgery.

But Ray did not stop at his memoir. Ray had been studying the piano for 20 years. His interest in music urged him to get involved with professional musicians who could tutor and mentor him. As a result, he wrote a musical based on his stories.

A memoir and a musical were not enough for Ray. He began to study poetry. With help from a fellow writer who saw the poetic value of his writing, she encouraged him to write Haikus. Today, Ray told me that writing Haikus and poems brings him a serenity that he has sought for much of his life.

I asked Ray what was the most significant event that influenced his life. “No doubt,” he related, “My first 18 months of silence in that damn Chinese chest. My whole life, I seek the silence of that time. My research, my great desire for learning, and my continued need to learn who I am. That has been my journey over the last ten years.”

. To be alive, truly alive, is to experience each day with joy. Ray Fay had a code that he lives by. Focus and develop three strengths that will bring joy to your life: your physical capability, your intellectual gifts, and your spiritual beliefs. “After I rise in the morning, I prepare a healthy breakfast of fruit for my wife, Ingrid. We have lunch each afternoon, and we later take time to walk our dog. It is in these three simple things that I find great joy."

As we age, our bodies need more attention, and good health matters. But what matters more is our spirit when we are alone. Although Ray enjoys dining with his friends and golfing with his wife, he appreciates the time he can enter his alone time—the time of silence that he learned as an infant.

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