A Legacy in the Words of One Man

by | Jan 24, 2024

When you hear a suggestion to share your stories with your children and grandchildren, do you hear a voice say, “They’re not interested, don’t have time, and don’t care about my stories?”

In conversation with my friend, Joe McIlhaney, M.D., he said what he’d been thinking for a long time – they’re not interested, don’t have time, and don’t care.

I challenged him to write down a few thoughts about the legacy I knew he would leave for those of us blessed by his friendship.

Joe started with the famous words, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Spoken by the Greek philosopher Socrates, in his defense speech at the trial that led to his death, he found it interesting that when faced with death, Socrates was introspective.

Joe is 88 years young and has faced the question of his own legacy more than once. Catching him on his way to work, driving around Texas to talk to donors or at his favorite Bible study, you wouldn’t suspect he’s battled cancer three times in the past four years. Twice it could have been life-ending: a very aggressive and invasive melanoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his spleen that required a splenectomy and six rounds of chemo.

Listen to Joe’s words:
My point is that, like Socrates, I am nearing the time of my death. So, I have two thoughts about my legacy. One is about my history and the legacy I would leave if I were to die now. The other is that since I am not dead, my full legacy is not yet written, though it is coming to a close. 

According to Dawn Franks in her “The Gift of Giving, “Some stories come from our past, some are in production right now, and others are yet to be written.” That is precisely where I am, stories from my past and still writing new stories.

For years, Joe thought that writing his story was a useless exercise. Putting it into perspective, you need to know Joe has authored or co-authored at least nine books over the last thirty years. He’s a nationally recognized OB/GYN infertility specialist and prolific writer on health, sexuality and relationships.

So, why did it seem so difficult to write about his legacy, the ideas and experiences he most wanted to leave behind?

Joe says it this way:
My kids and grandkids seldom ask about my life. They don’t ask about my faith in Jesus, the very core of my being, from which everything in my life and practice flows. They don’t ask me what life was like during World War II. They don’t ask anything about my life at all.

I have taken that to mean that they would never care. But as I thought about my questions to my own parents, I realized they did not come till my parents were gone. I now have a thousand questions I wish I had asked them.

So, now, because of Dawn’s writing, I want to record my life. It is up to them to read or not to read. But at least it will be there for them even if only my grandchildren and great-grandchildren read it. I want them to know how vital it is for their lives to be rooted in faith in our living Lord Jesus and that He can be their bedrock for a life of fulfillment. 

Joe also wants his family to understand why an 88- or 89- or 90-year-old is so intent on his work, still following the dream he knows he is supposed to follow. Joe says, “I want them to know why.”

A fact about Joe: He founded the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in 1992, later leaving a successful practice in 1995 to follow a new calling – create a resource for medically accurate sexual health information, including the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. Dallas-based, they are the source of scientific articles, books, and educational resources for professionals, parents, and the public.

Back to Joe’s WHY in his words:
Dawn speaks of James Clear in her book, saying that “one of the values on Clear’s list is “meaningful work.” Beyond my faith and Jesus at the core of my being, I want my legacy to be clear about my motivation as an OB/GYN infertility specialist.

I believe practicing medicine with integrity and skill is meaningful work. I quickly grasped the importance of new techniques and the promise of hope each held.

I enlisted three other doctors in establishing one of the first truly successful nonuniversity IVF programs in the United States. Yes, it was meaningful work, but I did it because it was “fun.” I loved it.

But my most meaningful work came out of the real pain I saw in my patients who, for multiple reasons, became infertile due to sexually transmitted damage. Before IVF, they were truly “sterile.” With IVF, if they could afford it and with discipline, they had a chance of bearing a baby

Out of compassion for these women, I founded the Medical Institute for Sexual Health. Leaving my very successful practice at its peak in 1995 to run this small but innovative nonprofit organization

Joe and his business partners knew the most common reason for infertility in the U.S. was a sexually transmitted disease (usually Chlamydia) that caused damage to a woman’s fallopian tubes. And with it, many problems, from emotional issues and divorce to out-of-wedlock pregnancies, children raised by single parents, poverty, and even stunted educational experiences. So much pain in so many lives.

To learn more about this important topic, check out the website of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health.

According to Joe: Today, my meaningful work and career legacy is the desire to bring about a New Sexual Revolution.

For Joe, the “New Sexual Revolution” includes a commitment to what is referred to as the “Success Sequence:” get at least a high school diploma, a full-time job and wait to have kids after marriage.

Joe: I do believe that God is keeping me alive at 88 years to see this big “ship” begin to turn, to see a change in our society in the area of sexuality; that is my prayer.

Joe’s final words for today:
Now that all that is said, I would never have thought of writing all this except for Dawn Franks and her book The Gift of Giving. I am thankful to her for putting me on the right track.

Thank you, Joe, for beginning a very important work. I was listening, and so will others.

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