The Brotherhood Luncheon at SigEp’s 56th Grand Chapter Conclave in Houston included a moving award presentation that highlighted the enduring power of brotherly love and honored a pivotal moment in the friendship between two legendary SigEps.
When Jim Clayton, Tennessee ’57, fell on hard times with his company, Clayton Homes, fellow SigEp Wally Doud, Wisconsin ’48, was there to help him put the company back on the right track. In appreciation of Doud’s service, Clayton endowed the Clayton-Doud Award, which recognizes brothers who exemplify the Fraternity’s charge to help brothers in their time of need.
The award was presented to Brian Harris, Maine ’11, and Owen McCarthy, ’10, and posthumously to Andrew Gerke,’08.
Gerke and Harris became fast friends during college, spending hours at the chapter house playing drums and talking about music. Gerke wasn’t just a friend; he took Harris under his wing, encouraging him to go for his dreams and helping him achieve them. When Gerke learned Harris wanted to join the drum and bugle corps, he spent early mornings practicing with him before classes. He even found an inventive way to help Harris memorize the rhythm of the steps by arranging tape on the floor in a pattern that mimicked the drummers’ stride.
Then Gerke died suddenly in a car crash the year after his graduation, leaving Harris devastated. The loss made Harris reflect on what was important to him. He loved music, but hadn’t found the right avenue to pursue it professionally. Inspired by Gerke’s passion and a desire to follow his own dreams, Harris realized how much music meant to him. After attending a lecture by a music therapist, he decided to combine his interests in psychology and music by studying neurological music therapy in grad school.
As he was finishing his master’s program, Harris sought out McCarthy, another trusted brother and friend, to get advice about his idea to start a music therapy practice. McCarthy, who was about to complete his MBA at Harvard Business School, immediately got excited about Harris’ idea. He provided the insight on business strategy that Harris needed to fine-tune his business plan.
The two became partners, launching a company that provides music therapy for patients with neurological injuries and disorders. Today, that company, MedRhythms, combines science, technology and music to help those patients improve speech, motor and cognitive skills. Harris serves as CEO, while McCarthy serves as president of the company, which now has 16 employees.
Although he couldn’t have known it then, Gerke’s willingness to mentor and share his interests with a young brother would lead two brothers to build a business dedicated to helping others. The brotherly love Gerke expressed has been multiplied many times over and will positively impact many others for a long time to come.