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In Loving Memory of Bernie Carr

Lt Col Torree McGowan, MD FACEP

How can such a big personality fit inside such a tiny human?  That was my first question when I met Bernie for the first time. She was always a hug or a touch on your arm, wild gestures into the atmosphere, and a voice to be heard across the Council floor.  Her New York accent seemed to get thicker the further she was from her beloved city.  

Bernie served as our GSACEP executive director from 1994 until 2018, the longest term in GSACEP history. Over those years, the chapter grew from a handful of people to one of the largest in ACEP. She oversaw the creation of the Joint Service Symposium, the precursor to the Government Services Symposium, GSACEP’s yearly education conference. This conference was instrumental in bridging the gaps between services, helping emergency medicine truly function as a cross-service specialty long before the idea of purple medicine became a trend.  Her steady hand took us through Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan, supporting generations of physicians as they deployed to support our warfighters. She witnessed the transition from a paper-based system to an agile, internet-based chapter that continues to adapt to meet members wherever they are in the world.

Bernie was famous for finding unsuspecting physicians in uniform and dragging them into GSACEP Board meetings. She was always on the prowl during ACEP conferences, looking for new recruits. Some of our chapter’s most influential leaders were recruited that way, with promises of mini muffins, coffee, and a military community. 

Parties were Bernie’s specialty. As a lady who used to rub elbows with Burt Reynolds and other Hollywood elites, she knew how to show people a good time. GSACEP receptions were legendary at Scientific Assembly: cruises around the bay, rooftop views, incredible food. Every time I had a chance to take her out to dinner when I visited New York City, she would pick little restaurants with amazing food and they all knew her by name.  Connecting people was her superpower, and she shared it freely with all.

GSACEP’s legacy of strong female leaders can be traced directly to Bernie’s mentorship. As a young leader, she taught me how to approach tough situations with grace and confidence. She showed me how to always treat people with kindness and candor, even when it had to be uncomfortable for her. She was brave enough to tell me the things I needed to know that I was blind to about myself, and I treasure her for making me better for every time I was lucky enough to deserve her mentorship. It is remarkable that as a chapter drawn from an institution that is 80% male, half of our Board is female. She constantly lifted us and encouraged us to lead without limits.

Bernie’s heart beat for GSACEP. While she did not ever serve in uniform herself, she was absolutely ours and a fierce champion for our service members.  It seems fitting that on the day of her death, her chapter was gathering again at Scientific Assembly for another great party. She passed away the day of our annual GSACEP reception, and I know her heart went at peace thinking of the bonds she helped forge that would continue. We laughed and remembered that night, and I like to think those memories carried her home.

Several years ago, GSACEP commissioned an interview to preserve her memories of this chapter and its history. These videos can be found here.

Her mark on ACEP and our chapter is written in the ledger of leaders that she mentored onto the universe’s largest stages: ACEP Presidents, Council Speakers, astronauts, and Generals. When I joined GSACEP, Bernie had been the heart and soul of our chapter for years prior. Her leadership was the rock that our highly-changeable chapter was built on for decades, and her legacy continues to shape our chapter for generations of military and federal EM physicians.




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