Sih and Park had three children under age 8 when Park, a cardiologist, died at 39 of a viral infection of his heart.

From the heart

A physician’s sudden death leads to a meaningful scholarship.

When Rahmawati Sih’s (MD’89) husband, Thomas Park, MD’89, died suddenly in 2002 at age 39, the couple had three children—identical twin sons Andrew and Matthew and daughter Emelia—all under the age of eight. “I can’t even describe how dark those days were,” Sih recalls.

Support poured in from friends and classmates, including the couple’s former roommates Charles (Cap) Powell, MD’89, and Jennifer Lim-Dunham, LAB’81, MD’89. “Cap and Jenny came up with the idea to establish the Dr. Thomas Park Class of 1989 Memorial Scholarship Fund,” a meaningful way to keep Park’s memory alive. “I was very, very touched,” Sih says. “It was very clear that they set up something that was so positive, and so good, and so forward-looking, even when I was just coping with the loss.”

Sih was also thankful for Park’s foresightedness. “He had spelled out his wishes and had really planned for the future, so I knew we’d be able to send our kids to college. I knew we would be fine.” Sih, who makes Chicago Society-level gifts of $2,500 or more to benefit the scholarship each year, also documented a bequest through Park’s retirement account. “Tom had been paying into his IRA for many years, so I thought, ‘Why don’t we turn this over, and at some point that will go into the scholarship too?’ It was so easy to just fill out a form.”

The scholarship is granted to devoted medical students with a liberal arts academic background, outstanding talents in arts and athletics, and who possess strong humanistic qualities and great integrity. “Tom was one of those people who had so many different abilities and so many interests. He was a talented musician and loved playing sports. He could quote you statistics out of a Bill James baseball book—just read through them once and know them.”

When Sih receives the CVs of scholarship recipients, she marvels at their accomplishments and talents and appreciates the letters of gratitude they send. “The scholars are very gracious and so thankful. I like knowing that I can support them so directly and that they have this opportunity.” She notes that Park had the talent, but not the time, to reach his full potential. “I read about these students and I think, ‘These are people who are going to make a difference in the world. This is someone who is going to prevent my Alzheimer’s or cure my arthritis.’”

“Whatever you do, you hope to leave this place somehow better than you found it,” says Sih, who believes that legacy planning should begin early in life, when people are fully competent and in a position to make appropriate decisions. “No surprise, being in medicine, we kind of like to captain our ship. I didn’t necessarily want to leave the task of honoring Tom to my family to guess what I wanted. I could always change things down the line. I wanted control over how the money was going to be disbursed, and it was something I felt strongly about.”

Today Sih serves as medical director of King-Bruwaert House, a continuing care community in the western suburbs of Chicago. She has since remarried; her husband Kevin works for a not-for-profit, developing new businesses to provide care for the elderly in the community.

Her sons have graduated from college and live in Seattle. “I still have one kid on the payroll,” Sih jokes, referring to 19-year-old Emmy, a sophomore at USC. “My children are fully aware that we are supporting other students. I think it’s good that we can expose them to these values.”

With students’ costs on the rise, Sih’s goal is to ensure that the scholarship grows robust enough to meet their needs—either by awarding more scholarships each year or increasing the amount given. She recognizes how the debt load of medical school can discourage people from entering the field. “We need people who are dedicated to forwarding the medical sciences, who want to take care of their patients, and if there is any way that we can encourage that to happen, it’s really important.”

Tip: Beneficiary designation forms override wills. Make sure to name contingent beneficiaries.

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