Dr. Richard C. Christensen Memorial Tree Planting

Richard C. Christensen, MD, MA

By Caroline Nickerson

Organized by a team with members from both the Sulzbacher Center and the Dr. Richard C. Christensen Memorial Editorial Board, the Dr. Richard C. Christensen (Dr. C) Memorial Tree Planting on Friday, January 5 was a moving way to remember a man who touched so many lives.

The team planted a bald cypress tree, selecting a tree not only likely to thrive in the swampy area in front of the building, but also rife with symbolism: this tree, like Dr. C, would flourish in environments deemed unsuitable or inhospitable by others. Dr. C, who tragically passed away in November of 2015, dedicated his life to serving the homeless and underserved through the practice of community psychiatry.

Bald Cypress Tree
Bald cypress tree planted for Dr. C at the Sulzbacher Center in Jacksonville, FL

The program began outside by the newly planted tree with a welcome and a thank-you from Cindy Funkhouser, the President and CEO of the Sulzbacher Center. John Bowls, a friend and colleague of Dr. C, then read Dr. C’s favorite prayer, the “Prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola.” The gathering of over 50 former clients, friends, colleagues, and family members then made their way inside for the rest of the program.

Musicians from the Sulzbacher Center led the crowd in singing “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.” They were then followed by speeches from Tory Wilcox, a behavioral health counselor at the Sulzbacher Center, Dr. Colleen Bell, the Sulzbacher’s Director for Behavioral Health, Dr. Ana Turner, an Assistant Professor at the University of Florida, and Caroline Nickerson, an Editorial Assistant for the Christensen Memorial Project.

All of the speeches focused on Dr. C’s long-term impact and legacy, which is thriving and will continue to grow. Tory Wilcox emphasized the degree to which the behavioral health team misses Dr. C but continues to work in a way that would make him proud, while Dr. Bell spoke about the community psychiatry fellowship soon to be established at the Sulzbacher in Dr. C’s name. Dr. Turner and Caroline Nickerson further spotlighted this legacy by describing the work of the Christensen Editorial Board, which has already produced a PEARLS handbook for community psychiatry and a completed ethics curriculum under review, with a larger website consisting of nearly 100 of Dr. C’s articles (and more content!) in the works.

Dr. C Tree Memorial
People gather outside the Sulzbacher Center for the Dr. C Memorial Tree Planting.

The event closed with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” and servings of birthday cake, commemorating the anniversary of Dr. C’s birthday on the upcoming Sunday. Truly a celebration of a life well lived, the event stressed the continued growth of Dr. C’s legacy of serving the underserved, a labor of love carried out by both those who knew him and those who never knew him but are inspired by his legacy. This legacy is best encompassed by the inscription of Dr. C’s own words that will go at the base of the bald cypress tree: “The practice of medicine is a moral endeavor that is grounded in a covenant of care.”