OSCA, Columnist Kelly Remember Supporter Stothert
Members of the Omaha Sister Cities Association (OSCA) were saddened late last week to learn of the death of Dr. Joseph Stothert, husband of Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert. Mayor Stothert serves as honorary chair of OSCA.
All OSCA members joined OSCA President Judith Schweikart in offering the mayor and her family their deepest condolences. Tributes arrived from representatives of Omaha’s six sister cities and its one friendship city. Longtime OSCA supporter and former Omaha World-Herald columnist Mike Kelly, a frequent traveler on OSCA trips abroad, shared his memories of Dr. Stothert in “A Guy Named Joe,” a reflection shared with OSCA board members.
Kelly recalled Dr. Stothert’s longtime support of OSCA, particularly his selfless participation in the October 2019 trip to Normandy, France, to formalize a friendship city agreement with Isigny-Omaha Intercom.
“A Guy Named Joe”
By Mike Kelly
A guy named Joe, who served as Mayor Jean Stothert’s escort, umbrella-holder and fellow sightseer during the Omaha Sister City Association’s trip to Paris and Normandy in October 2019, stood quietly in the background as the mayor’s official duties took center stage. Five thousand miles from home, she stood on the sands of Omaha Beach with Mayor Anne Boissel and later in a Romanesque-style room with Corinthian columns, cornices and chandeliers hanging from a 20-foot ceiling as the two mayors signed a Sister City “friendship agreement.”
Proudly standing by through all the Omaha-Omaha Beach events was the unassuming Joe, who some might have assumed was her personal tour guide. In fact, he had stood at her side for four decades and was known back home as Dr. Joseph Stothert, an esteemed and beloved trauma surgeon. In her eight years as mayor, he kept a low public profile. But he was held in the highest regard by many whose lives he had saved or whose terrible injuries he had helped heal. A Nebraska Medicine surgeon, he had served as state medical director for trauma and as medical director for the Omaha Fire Department’s medic training program.
At one point in our Normandy trip, I chatted with the mayor, herself a former critical-care nurse, and with Dr. Stothert as we stood inside a concrete-block embattlement, a German pillbox above the beaches from 75 years earlier. As we gazed out to sea and tried to imagine the D-Day invasion, I wondered if he was thinking of all the military medics who played a critical role on what became known to history as “Bloody Omaha.” I spent a career asking questions, but decided that one wasn’t necessary.
The next day, our 64-member delegation from OSCA and Alliance Francaise visited the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, just above the beach, with its nearly 10,000 white stone grave markers. In Europe, tourists are awed by monuments, palaces and cathedrals hundreds of years old, but — as I wrote in The World-Herald — few experiences can match the breathtaking dignity and the stirring of the soul more than walking the sacred burial grounds and the sands of Omaha Beach. On a rainy day a year and a half ago, the mayor laid a wreath at the side-by-side graves of two Nebraskans.
Aside from appreciating those serious moments, which were the purpose of the trip, all appeared to enjoy the French visit, including the Stotherts. The mayor kept in touch with her staff in Omaha, but she and her guy Joe mingled, too. Dinner on the Seine, the lighted Eiffel Tower at night, an afternoon walk through the landscaped Jardin du Palais Royal and much more, including a stop at Monet’s Garden in Giverny and a multi-course banquet in Normandy with French mayors amid speeches, laughter and music — all added to the journey. The Omaha Sister Cities Association looked forward to seeing the mayor and Joe on future trips.
All were saddened to learn that Dr. Joseph Stothert, 72, had died at home in Omaha on March 5. On our trip to Omaha Beach, this accomplished, life-saving Omahan had honored us by his presence. It didn’t take a surgeon’s skill to lend a hand in the rain, but he seemed happy to do so — and hold an umbrella above his wife, the mayor.