"Stories give us a map for what is possible in the world. They show us how individuals have negotiated the challenges, the pain, the defeat, the prejudice, the naysaying, and how they've prevailed. They argue for those of us down in the trenches that we too are capable of extraordinary feats."
Katie McCabe, March 2013, Women's History Month speech to Military Veterans
Katie McCabe has spent her writing life bringing stories of unsung heroes into the light. She won the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing for her 1989 Washingtonian article "Like Something the Lord Made." Her story of Vivien Thomas, the Black man who, without a medical degree, helped pioneer cardiac surgery, formed the basis for the 2004 Emmy-winning HBO film Something the Lord Made. The original story was so popular that Washingtonian republished it in May 2020 during the early days of the COVID lockdown.
As editor Michael Schaffer wrote:
"If you're looking for a break from COVID-19 news . . . you'll find "Like Something the Lord Made," which first ran in this magazine in 1989 and may be the most beloved story we've ever published. It's a tale of medicine and humanity and patience. It has nothing to do with the current crisis, but we still hope it feels like a balm for the soul."
McCabe's book Mighty Justice, co-authored with trailblazing civil rights lawyer Dovey Johnson Roundtree, was a January 2020 Oprah best book pick. She also co-authored a 2020 young reader's biography of Dovey and a 2021 picture book based on Dovey's childhood. We Wait for the Sun won the 2022 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award.
Her passion for chronicling unrecognized genius in sports, medicine, science and the law has led her from one of the most remote corners of the American west to Baltimore operating rooms to the classrooms and courtrooms of Washington, DC. Behind each of her portraits of unheralded greatness lies a story. Here are a few of them.
Slide 1: Dovey Johnston Roundtree, photo courtesy of Dovey Johnson Roundtree Educational Trust
Slide 2: Vivien Thomas, photo courtesy of the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives, Johns Hopkins University Medical Center
Slide 3: Dr. Helen Taussig, photo courtesy of Yousef Karsh Estate
Slide 4: Amalie Noether, photo in the public domain
Slide 5: Ron Losee, photo courtesy of Erik Petersen
Slide 6: Rosalind Franklin, photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health
Slide 7: Joyce Garrett, photo courtesy of Kuyamba Media