“Whatever side we are on, it will be the same side.” – Dr. Rusty
These are the last words Rusty spoke to me when we said goodbye. The sentiment was classic Rusty in its timelessly inclusive, jocular, insightful, wise, authentic and downright funny nature. A sentence couldn’t better speak to who Howard Charles “Rusty” Schlachter was.
He spoke these words as I was departing his house. Rusty almost never veiled his situation or the plight of those around him. With uncanny wit he would direct the most uncomfortable parent to see the wonder and beauty of life and this day was no different. He remarked as we shook hands that, “Brian, we may never meet again. Thank you for everything you have done for me and my family.” He was sitting in a chair during his birthday party and we all knew that his time was near. We acknowledged our love of him and our time with him, as well as his eternal invitation to work at the practice. I replied, “Rusty, we will see one another again, whether it be on this side or the other side.” He smiled and quickly retorted, “Whatever side we are on, it will be the same side.” Now I smiled as these words hung in the air. He was right. Rusty was almost always right. We are on the same side and we always will be. As a matter of fact, everyone is on the same side we simply perceive boundaries and separateness. If you listen with your heart then you will know what he was saying that day.
I met Dr. Rusty in 2010. He was giving a talk at Food and Thought on Holistic Child Birthing and I attended. I didn’t know who this man was or why he chose Naples to speak. He was not a local practicing pediatrician. I attended out of curiosity and to see what I could learn. I sat in the back row.
As fate would have it, I unknowingly sat next to Judy, his wife. I mumbled something to the effect, I have never heard someone say these things before except me. Judy overheard me and asked me what I had just said. I repeated my sentence and this time included that I was a holistic pediatrician. After the talk she introduced herself and quickly had Rusty and me talking. Within a week he was practicing at Thornburg Pediatrics.
Dr. Rusty maintained a Monday through Friday and two weekends a month New Jersey practice then flew to Naples on the off weekends to see his wife and cover my practice. He did this until the age of 73. Judy stayed in Naples for the season. Eventually and after a few good snow storms, the New Jersey house was sold and along with it the practice was closed. This was 2015.
Dr. Rusty had been practicing out of his carriage house located at the back of his 1800s Essex Falls farmhouse. The carriage house had been his office since the 1970s. You could say he was the first home visit pediatrician. He practiced common sense pediatrics and our philosophies meshed perfectly. He was the mentor I never knew I was looking for.
So Rusty, as you once told a new mom who called you late at night asking if a normal baby behavior was a problem, I say the same in eulogy to you. “Walk outside to the open air, drop to your knees, look to the heavens and say, ‘Thank you, God, for giving me a good one!” Thank you, Rusty, for giving all of us a good one…