Healthy Living: From tragedy to inspiration, Annual run/walk gives thanks to devoted doctor
By: Dave Boe, Living North, Living North
When Hilary Crook turned on her cell phone the evening of Aug. 8, 2008, after returning home from dinner with her husband, it beeped with nine
missed calls. She knew something was wrong. As she considered the options, her cell phone rang. It was her father, Tom Crook. He told her that after taking a nap that evening after work, he walked into the kitchen where his wife had been cooking dinner and found her on the floor. He tried CPR and called 911. It was too late. Nancy English, wife, mother, friend, physician, runner, was gone.
It was a sudden and tragic end to a 57-year life devoted to helping others. Nancy’s unexpected death resulted from cardiac arrest. But her legacy lives on in the form of a memorial foundation to help nontraditional women students continue their education and a race this month to help support that mission.
Born in 1951, Nancy English attended Augsburg College, earned a master’s degree in social work at the University of Minnesota and worked in that field until she decided to attend medical school at age 37. After earning her M.D., Nancy and her family settled in Duluth, where she trained at the Family Practice Center and later practiced family medicine at P.S. Rudie and Associates, with additional duties at St. Luke’s and SMDC Health
She and Tom were married in 1976 and they had two daughters, Hilary and her sister, Emily Crook.
Professionally, she had a lot on her plate, but her daughters were amazed how she was able to devote herself to all her other passions.
“No matter what event I was in she was always there for me,” said Emily. “She did everything!” said Hilary. “She sang in the Duluth Symphony [chorus], she sewed like crazy, cooked homemade meals all the time, planned reunions, ran every day and still had time to make CDs and DVDs on the computer. She was politically active and a feminist. But she always had time to listen to us and friends, and to help others.”
And there were many others — people whose lives Nancy touched since her
childhood in the Twin Cities, during her years at school and on her medical rounds in Duluth. Phone calls and emails that went out late the evening of her death and early in the next morning.
One such call reached Barbara Reyelts,a Park Point neighbor, local television news personality and friend of Nancy and her
family. She and Nancy first met 10 years earlier and quickly became good friends. The two women ran together and Barbara recalled they were perfectly matched because they both ran slowly.
“Every morning Nancy called about 5:30 and asked if I was ready to run, the same words every morning for almost ten years,” Reyelts said. “She loved running for health, for fun, for sanity. We talked about everything on those runs, our children, our weight, our jobs and our friends. I cherished those times together.”
Hilary remembers her mother started running about 20 years ago. “She was very much a Type A personality, and dedicated, so she really got into running and races,” Hilary said.
At the visitation, lines of people saw her many awards, ribbons and photos from dozens of marathons, half-marathons, 5Ks and shorter races that testified to Nancy’s passion for running. But even before that,
the memory of that passion was starting to transform into an idea — and then into action.
The plan for a race in Nancy’s memory seemed the logical next step for those close to her. Eve Stein, who had organized other races, along with Barbara and volunteers — many of whom were former patients — joined forces to create the Dr. Nancy I.English Memorial 5K Walk/Run.
The first race took place in November 2008 on Park Point to raise money for the Dr. Nancy I. English Memorial Foundation. It provides a scholarship to help nontraditional women students.
That legacy continues with the second annual 5K walk/run on Nov. 14 at Sky Harbor Airport. It’s the same route, same cause, same memory of Nancy’s passing.But it’s also a symbol of what her life inspired others to do in that memory.
Three months before the first memorial walk/run, Nancy English was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery with her running shoes on.