In Bryant's Name
A pediatrician endows a scholarship in memory of his patient
by Johanna Droubay
Bryant Sheppard (’14) was only a few hours old when he first met Westminster alum and former board member Dr. Tom Metcalf (’65). Tom was making the rounds when he stopped by new mother Tami Sheppard’s room and offered his services as a pediatrician. Tami liked him immediately. She was a nervous new mother, and Tom was a calming presence.
“From that day on, every time we needed anything, Dr. Metcalf was always there for us,” Tami says.
A few months later, Tom made a life-saving diagnosis: baby Bryant had been born with bilateral retinoblastoma: cancer in both eyes. Within a week of diagnosis, surgeons had removed Bryant’s right eye, and treatment had begun on the left.
Doctors warned Tami that bilateral retinoblastoma frequently predicted bone cancer later in life. But she and her family moved forward hopefully, delighting in the exceptionally perceptive, smart, and compassionate child Bryant was becoming.
“He was such a gunner,” Tom says, “such a motivated, high-output kind of a kid.”
Even when Bryant was a teenager and a sore arm turned out to be the first indicator of bone cancer, he never complained. “He didn’t whine about his medical procedures,” Tami says. “He was more fascinated, I think, with what was going on with his body.”
Captivated by the intricacies of the body’s biological processes, Bryant took Tom’s advice and applied to Westminster, where he received a scholarship. He studied biology and pre-med, working weekends as an advanced emergency medical technician in Wendover, almost two hours away.
“He just loved to help people,” Tami says. Bryant was certified in scuba-diver stress and rescue, and he volunteered regularly in the oncology department of Primary Children’s Hospital.
Bryant’s Westminster professors marveled at his resilience and his thirst for knowledge. Although he had an almost fully prosthetic arm, he found new, adaptive ways of performing laboratory activities in his classes. Chemistry professor Robyn Hyde says, “Even after he learned he was terminal and did not have much time left, he continued to attend organic chemistry. I was humbled during those last days—when he was well enough to be out—that he honored me by coming to my class.”
Robyn was one of the faculty members who, along with several students, petitioned the college to allow Bryant to walk in Westminster’s 2014 commencement ceremony. Although his medical setbacks had prevented him from earning enough credits to graduate, Westminster granted Bryant an unprecedented certificate of completion. Bryant wore a cap and gown and accepted his certificate at the ceremony. He passed away a few weeks later.
In 2015, Bryant’s grandmother Jeanine Leone established an annual scholarship in Bryant’s name. In the fall of 2018, Tom made Bryant’s scholarship permanent by endowing it. The Bryant J. Sheppard Endowed Scholarship, which was funded by the sale of Tom’s whole life insurance policy, supports students experiencing financial hardship due to medical expenses. Tom says, “It was a very, very easy choice.”
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.