My earliest recollection of seeing a man knowledgeable in one specialty making foolish pronouncements in another area was South African heart-transplant pioneer, Dr. Christiaan Barnard. It was March, 1969, and his successful transplant of a healthy heart into middle-aged South African grocer, Louis Washkansky, 15 months earlier had transformed Barnard into an international celebrity.
At a charity event in Johannesburg one evening, I watched the handsome superstar beguile a bevy of socialites hovering around him. I edged closer hoping to hear more about his historic medical procedure. Instead, what I heard was Dr. Barnard explaining why the Americans’ race to land a man on the moon was doomed. Then, in response to a question from a pretty young thing, he launched into a lesson on how to maintain a long and happy marriage. His audience hung on his every word and as a young guy with very limited life experience, I can’t claim that I felt any particular skepticism.
Only a few months later, two events taught me caution about pontificating outside your area of expertise. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon and Christiaan Barnard and Aletta, his wife of 20 years, divorced. I decided that although his medical expertise was epic, his knowledge of space travel and marriage left much to be desired. This idea was reinforced when Dr. Barnard’s second and third marriages each lasted 12 years.