Garry: Be grateful where you come from
FAIRMONT — Dan Garry has lived a wholehearted life that first found its rhythm in his experiences growing up in Fairmont.
He credits his family, his teachers at St. John Vianney and Fairmont High School, and his involvement with Boy Scouts, among other things, for helping shape the person he was to become.
“[My family] was a product of Irish Catholic immigrants, so I grew up in a family that held many of those values, values that focused on hard work, on community service, on the importance of our country and the importance of religion and education,” he says.
Garry will return to Fairmont on Jan. 26 to be honored as the 2019 featured alumnus at St. John Vianney School. He will give the keynote address at the school’s 15th annual dinner/dance. Those interested in tickets may contact the school at (507) 235-5304.
Garry lives with his wife, Mary Grace, in Eagan. Since 2007, he has been working at the University of Minnesota, where he has served as chief of the cardiovascular division, director of the Lillehei Heart Institute, director of the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Center, director of the Lillehei Clinical Research Unit and director of the regenerative medicine and sciences program. He currently holds the St. Jude Medical endowed chair in cardiovascular sciences and is a professor in medicine, physiology, Stem Cell Institute and Developmental Biology Center.
Garry and his wife have four children — Glynnis, John, Grace and Patrick, all of whom attended the University of Notre Dame.
Garry began his life as the fourth child (of eight) born to Elizabeth and Michael Garry of Fairmont. He attended St. John Vianney before moving on to Fairmont High School, where he graduated in 1976. He attended St. John’s University, then the University of Minnesota, obtaining his medical degree. Prior to coming back to the University of Minnesota, he worked UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas as a transplant cardiologist and physician scientist.
Gary fondly recalls his time as a child and young adult in Fairmont, noting the hard work his family put in at its small country grain elevator, as well as the good times he had with family and friends on the local lakes, boating and swimming.
He describes as “really great people” those adults with whom he interacted as a youth. He says these teachers, coaches, Scout leaders and family friends took an interest in young people, and offered forward-looking advice and tutelage. He said these adults may have lived in a small town, but they were attuned to global affairs.
He specifically noted the influence of men like local high school band leader Dick Scherer, coaches Joe Burns and Tom Mahoney, and Boy Scout leader Gary Langer.
At St. John Vianney, the teachers made the school something special, Garry says. He said their dedication and commitment helped them connect with and inspire students.
Growing up in Fairmont taught him about life in another way as well. By teaching him about death.
One of Garry’s childhood best friends was born with congenital heart disease. Because he lived in Minnesota, his friend was able to receive treatment from two world-class cardiovascular specialists, doctors C. Walton Lillehei and Paul Dwan. “Lillehei” is the name on the university’s heart institute that Garry would later direct.
Garry remembers the day his friend died, playing baseball, which was something he was not supposed to do. Garry was running the bases, with his friend waving him on. When Garry reached home plate, he looked back and saw a teacher doing CPR on his friend, to no avail.
“You learn life is precious,” Garry said.
He says he never forgot his friend, and he hopes his patients today feel like he has done everything he can to help improve their lives.
Garry said all he learned at St. John Vianney provided a platform for high school, and also led him to choose to attend St. John’s University and pursue a career in medicine.
When he returns to St. John Vianney to speak, Garry says he will talk about the importance of early youth, and the need to invest in that particular time in a child’s life. He believes children and families face unique challenges these days, with far more distractions and complications than when he was growing up. His message is that sacrifices pay off, and that investing $1 early in a child’s life will yield $10 in return.
Garry believes many people were there for him in different ways when he was young, and he has not forgotten it.
“The most important thing is to always be grateful for what you’re given and where you come from,” he said. “Because of that, I’m extremely grateful to St. John Vianney, to my family and to Fairmont, that have given me all of these opportunities. And hopefully that’s also been reflected in all the opportunities my kids also have received.”