Medical professor’s ‘priceless’ tie raises donations for those in need

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It was nearing the end of the 27th Hunger and Homelessness Live Auction when item #19 went on the block. William B. Stewart, PhD, associate professor of surgery and chief of the Section of Anatomy, took to the lectern to auction off his signature bowtie, as he has for years. The auctioning of his bowtie is a tradition within a tradition—he’s been teaching anatomy since 1978 and generations of medical and physician associate students have learned about the human body from him. And, as in years past, the bowtie sparked a spirited rivalry between medical students and students in the Physician Associate Program.

“This tie, of course, is priceless,” Stewart told the crowd in Café Med. “I wear it in the lab.”

Unlike bidding for other items on the evening of Dec. 3, the price rose in increments not of $10 or $20, but of $50 and $100. Bidding started at $75, quickly rising into the hundreds of dollars. “The bid is $1,000. Do I hear $1,100?”

Med students had bit the price up to $2,600 when Allie Miller, a first-year student in the physician associate program, rose to tender the winning sum. “I’ll bid you $2,704.94!”

“Sold!” Stewart said as cheers and applause greeted the bid—the exact amount the PA students had raised in the weeks leading up to the auction.

Since 1993 the auction has provided grants to New Haven organizations that address issues of food and housing insecurity in New Haven. Ali Elreichouni, a second-year student and one of the auction’s organizers, estimated that this year’s auction raised about $13,500. Proceeds will benefit the Community Health Care Van, Fellowship Place, Liberty Community Services, Loaves and Fishes, St. Ann’s Soup Kitchen and Emergency Food Pantry, and Witnesses to Hunger. Along with Elreichouni, organizers included first-year students Erika Chang-Sing, Mursal Gardezi, Josh Glahn, John Havlik, Dana Lee, and Chandler McMillan.

Scores of people filled Café Med to bid on 24 live auction items that included harbor cruises in faculty sailboats, dinners prepared by faculty, nature walks, an acrobatic airplane flight, 18 rounds of golf with a faculty member, soccer lessons, tickets to see the Red Sox, a bowling night with the dean of public health, rock climbing with two neuroscientists, and a three-course meal at the Union League Cafe.

“All of these items are phenomenal, especially when you factor in the organizations that we’re contributing to,” said Thilan Wijesekera, MD, HS ’16, MHS ’18, assistant professor of medicine, the first of four faculty auctioneers. He urged the crowd to do “whatever you can do to lower your bidding threshold for this great cause… We have wine.”

One popular item was a three-hour cruise of New Haven Harbor offered by Auguste Fortin VI, MD, MPH, professor of medicine. Fortin sweetened the pot with more than just food and drink on the excursion. “The farther you get from New Haven, the prettier it looks,” he said, adding, “As captain of the ship I can do marriage ceremonies—they are valid only for the duration of the trip.”

In addition to Wijesekera and Stewart, faculty auctioneers included Mark Mercurio, MD, HS ’85, FW ’88, professor of pediatrics (neonatology) and director of the Yale Pediatrics Ethics Program; and Jaideep Talwalkar, MD, HS ’04, associate professor of internal medicine. They were joined by a professional auctioneer, Sammy Piotrkowski.