Dr. Sid ... Mentor, Hero, Chiropractor

By Drew Rubin, B.S., D.C., CCSP, DACCP
“Just letting everyone know that Dad’s mentor and hero, Dr. Sid Williams, who founded Life University and is widely considered to be Chiropractic’s greatest innovator, died this morning. I knew him for my entire life and he could talk the talk like nobody else. ‘I feel happy, I feel healthy, I feel terrific!’”

That was my son Palmer’s post on Facebook at 8:20 a.m. on Dec. 27, 2012, the morning we found out that Dr. Sid passed away. Palmer had such an early start in this major event that he was contacted by the Marietta Daily Journal a few minutes later asking him if he knew how to get in touch with Life University President Dr. Guy Riekeman. In this day of social media, it didn’t take long from the time Dr. Sid’s grandson posted the information of his grandfather’s passing on Facebook to Dr. Riekeman’s announcement on LIFE eNews at 12:45 p.m. that same day. The world that Dr. Sid was born into was quite different than the one he passed from and, in my personal opinion, the world is a much better place because he was here.

Sidney Earl Williams was born in 1928 in Rome, Ga. He became an icon in the world of Chiropractic, not just because he was the first president of Life University, the largest chiropractic college in the world, but because it seemed everything he did was done in the spirit of abundance and determination. From his Georgia Tech days, where he played in the 1952 Orange Bowl, to founding Dynamic Essentials in 1964 and creating Life Chiropractic College in 1974, this man was the epitome of thinking big.

Much has been written about the things Dr. Sid did and all the accomplishments he has contributed to the field of Chiropractic. Gerry Clum, D.C., one of the early faculty at Life Chiropractic College, wrote a great summary of Dr. Sid’s accomplishments that appeared in Dynamic Chiropractic on Feb. 15 (dynamicchiropractic.com/mpacms/dc/article.php?id=56330). The best way I feel we could sum up Dr. Sid’s life in Today’s Chiropractic LifeStyle is to talk more about the man himself and his interaction with chiropractors in the field and as faculty.

It has been a privilege to see many sides of Dr. Sid through the course of my life within Chiropractic. I first met him after I transferred to Life Chiropractic College in 1987. He led what he called “assembly” every Thursday from 11 a.m. to noon in what was then known as Annex B (now the Learning Resources Center/Library). There were folding walls that were all retracted to make one huge room that seated maybe 500 or more students, and I can honestly say, being from New York, I could barely understand what this man had to say. But he sure was passionate. His booming Southern drawl would rock the hall as he would tell us about the latest political issues within the field or about the upcoming major renovation of the campus, which began right before I graduated in June of 1989. Shaking his hand as I went across the graduation stage was awe-inspiring, since in my eyes he was a bigger-than-life hero right here in the flesh.

My next major interaction with him was at Dynamic Essentials (DE) in 1993. I was not experiencing the joy in practice that Dr. Sid had talked about so many times during assembly. Over the course of the first few years in practice, many had told me that I should try DE again, but I had heard all of that before, so I thought it wasn’t worth it to spend the few grand it would cost for my wife and me to travel down to Atlanta, get a hotel room, pay for food and rental car, all to hear what I thought I already knew. However, I had come to an impasse in my career and decided it was time to give DE one more chance.

Dynamic Essentials started in Dr. Sid’s office on Tuesday nights in the early 1960s to help other chiropractors achieve the success he had been blessed with (opening more than 20 chiropractic offices in the Atlanta metro area). He then started teaching at the Parker Seminars, but realized what he had was bigger and grander than speaking for an hour or two at someone else’s seminar. By 1964, Dr. Sid, his wife Dr. Nell and his lifelong friend Dr. D.D. Humber (brother of his first chiropractor) formalized DE and began teaching his own unique brand of success principles to larger and larger audiences.

What was so special about the DE brand of Chiropractic? It wasn’t just about the business, the procedures or the how-to’s. It was also about the why … not only why Chiropractic is so important, but why each one of us is so important to Chiropractic.

That particular DE was a turning point in my life, not just because I finally got “the big idea” of Chiropractic, but because Dr. Sid in one instant turned me from a student to a doctor, from a young adult to a man. He talked about how in Atlanta there was a garbage dump and one day, a developer wanted to build a mall on top of the garbage. Dr. Sid stated that the developer did not excavate every bit of garbage out of the garbage dump to build the mall of his dreams. He simply flattened out the garbage and then put the mall right on top of it. Then Dr. Sid turned toward me, and mind you, this is only about 15 minutes into his Thursday afternoon talk, and said, “Boy, you can build the castle of your dreams on top of the garbage.” Here I thought because of my lower middle class upbringing and my poor heritage I was destined to struggle. Dr. Sid said that I could build the castle of my dreams ON TOP OF the garbage. Another life-changing moment.

From that point, we all heard the classic Dr. Sid-isms: “I can, I will, I must!” Endlessly he would ask, “How do you feel?” And we would respond, “Near perfect!” He said we must “see the fields white with harvest,” meaning that we have to see what we want before it happens in order to help make it happen. He made us say it over and over again, “I have found what I believe to be the basic, the fundamental cause of all, or nearly all of your problems. It is here, in your spine, and can be corrected right here, in this office. Do you understand?” It made me realize how important it is for patients to truly hear and understand the chiropractic message.

Dr. Sid said you have to “speak with authority” with your patients. You can’t expect people to follow your recommendations unless you are 100 percent committed to them yourself. He told us stories about football while he was in high school and at Georgia Tech, that “you need to have a made-up mind” to succeed. Dr. Sid reminisced about selling cookware while at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, telling us that he “had to fall in love with the cookware to sell it.” He mentioned Larry Bird, “How much did he practice every day? Eight to 10 hours a day just doing the basics!” He spent time on a huge tenet that is so paramount in DE practices even today: the idea that, “I accept all cases regardless of condition or financial ability.” He taught us that it was more important to try to “outgive the giver” and Dr. Bill Harris’ favorite saying, “the hole that you give through will be the hole that you receive from.”

“Do what you are trained to do,” he admonished us when we asked how to build the practice of our dreams, “even in the face of adversity.” He reminded us of Rocky Balboa who, when faced with almost imminent defeat, said, “I ain’t going down no more.” Dr. Sid said it would take “long days and sleepless nights” to achieve the big vision. Your mission would be accomplished if you “do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, whether you like it or not.” Dr. Sid had this amazing ability to squeeze all of this incredible philosophy into these one-liners that made so much sense.

“Lasting purpose: To give for the sake of giving, serve for the sake of serving, love for the sake of loving and do for the sake of doing, out of a sense of abundance, with no expectation of return.” Sentences like this were said over and over again during DE, so throughout the course of the 10 years that I barely missed a DE meeting, this philosophy had become ingrained in us.

But nothing was more impactful than Dr. Sid pulling out those keys. He would say something like, “If I drop these keys, where do they go? Do they go down only sometimes, or do they drop every time? That is the law, and Chiropractic operates with the same law of the universe. It works every time, regardless if you believe in it or not.” It was that conviction, that fortitude, that strengthened us. Dr. Sid gave us hope. Even more than hope, he gave us what B.J. Palmer called “the vision of the far.” He helped us believe in ourselves, not just so that we can have more successful chiropractic offices, but because Chiropractic needed us, and people needed what we offered. The huge sign that hung behind the podium at every DE still makes me shiver when I think about it: “Nothing is bigger than life.” That’s what he was trying to tell us. We can make a difference. Every one of us has that power.

Since that fateful DE meeting some 20 years ago, my life has never been the same. My practice exploded, my life took on new meaning, my relationships deepened, amazing things happened. When my wife and I first started teaching at Life University in 2001, we sat down with Dr. Sid shortly after our being hired. His first comment was, “I didn’t see you at the last DE meeting, did I?” He always surprised us with observations that would come out of the blue like that.

Over the course of our 12 years of teaching at Life University, so much has changed. Seeing Dr. Sid and Dr. Nell, Dr. D.D. Humber and Dr. Riekeman cutting the ribbon during the library dedication has been permanently etched in my mind. We were all saddened to see him in a wheelchair, but he still had that booming powerful voice and that captivating smile. He had a stroke on Christmas Eve 2011, and many in the profession felt the fear rise in our hearts. Another year passed and we truly believed we would see him on the platform again, dropping the keys one more time.

When my son found out that Dr. Sid had passed away, he called me immediately. “Dad, I have to talk to you.” As I walked into the room, he said, “Dad, Dr. Sid died. I thought you’d want to know.” I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. A force, not my own, caused me to rock backwards and sit down into the nearest chair I could find. All of us knew his passing was coming; it was inevitable, but we weren’t prepared for the hole it left in us with him gone. At the funeral a few days later, we were stunned that he still was able to surprise us, even in his passing. It wasn’t a somber, quiet, subdued service. It was filled with music, celebration, laughter and 84 doves being released at the conclusion. It made us think that we should plan out our own final memorial service, like I am sure Dr. Sid did.

It has been a little more than a month [since his passing] as I write this. Flags still fly at half-mast here at Life University. The enduring thought I am left with is this: Who will take his place? Who is the next Dr. Sid? In the same breath, though, I think I have the answer. As a pediatric specialist, where else would I look but the kids? One of the favorite questions I ask my classes is, “Do you realize that you might be adjusting the next president of the United States? The next Mother Teresa? The next Gandhi?” Now I need to add, “or the next Dr. Sid?” “We never know,” as B.J. Palmer would say, “how far-reaching something we think, say or do today will affect the lives of millions tomorrow.” Maybe that next child patient, walking in the door after 10 ear infections in his first three years, maybe that boy or that girl will be so inspired by the healing that takes place and the love that you have showered on him and his family, that he will be motivated to become a chiropractor and then lead the profession to the next level. Who knows what is possible?

I am sure Dr. Sid does. He is watching over us, getting ready to drop the keys one more time. Which child will catch it? That is up to us.

We love you, Dr. Sid, for you love what we love. May you rest in peace.

One more time … “I feel healthy, I feel happy, I feel terrific!”