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A special honor for a special man who chose Flagstaff

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It's been more than four months since the sudden death of Flagstaff pediatric neurosurgeon Nathan Avery from an accidental fall at Lake Powell.

In the days that followed, the outpouring of grief and support for his family were noteworthy primarily because of the volume -- the special Web page of condolences quickly accumulated 300 posts and an additional 100 personal stories.

But it was at his memorial service and celebration of life ceremony at Snowbowl on a monsoon evening in late August that the enormity of his impact on Flagstaff hit home. The event attracted -- conservatively -- 1,500 people, and they sang, laughed and cried together in memory of a man who changed their lives for the better -- sometimes just as passing acquaintances.

Many were his patients and their families, and they spoke of a doctor who healed not only their bodies but also their souls. They recalled a physician who was unfailingly kind, upbeat and thoughtful -- even as he dealt with some of the most difficult and heart-wrenching cases medicine has to offer. As we wrote here in August, there is nothing more painful to a parent than the inability to ease the suffering of their child, but in Nate Avery they found not only a doctor who would heal their loved one but a counselor to walk them calmly through those terrifying days.

Then there were his neighbors and his boating friends -- somehow Avery found the time outside his demanding medical practice to plow out shut-ins, tutor the neighbor kids in car engine repair and share his love of the Canyon and Lake Powell with family and friends. He was utterly devoid of pretense, and his sense of humor was legend. He put patients and strangers alike immediately at ease, despite a fierce intelligence and surgical skills that could have taken him anywhere in the world.

The fact that he chose Flagstaff, where he grew up and to which he returned after 12 long years of medical school and residencies, was a gift to his hometown that made his untimely passing all the more painful.

But judging from the posts on his family's website, that choice has inspired many to look at their own lives and how they might go forward with even a fraction of the courage and consideration that Nate Avery displayed every day.

When it came time for nominations for 2012 Citizen of the Year, his Cherry Hill neighbors signed a letter urging that Nate Avery receive the honor posthumously. Instead, the committee, made up of former honorees, unanimously chose to honor his memory with the Platt Cline Award for Humanitarian Service, an award named after the late Daily Sun editor and publisher who founded the Citizen of the Year program. His family will receive the honor at the annual Citizen of the Year awards luncheon later this month.

Meanwhile, the posts to the memorial website,, keep on coming. We'll close with a more recent post, and one that sums up our own recollections of a man who, even in death, is still having a profound impact on the hometown he loved.

"Reading through the stories, it is clear that Nate never changed. He was still the person who lit up the room, the doctor who would go above and beyond for his patients, and the humble family man who loved his wife and children above all else. I will be forever thankful for that year our lives intersected."


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