the fleming-churchill story

i’m sure you’ve heard this story about alexander fleming and winston churchill…

His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying to eke out a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog. There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman’s sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.

“I want to repay you,” said the nobleman. “You saved my son’s life.”

“No, I can’t accept payment for what I did,” the Scottish farmer replied, waving off the offer. At that moment, the farmer’s own son came to the door of the family hovel.

“Is that your son?” the nobleman asked.

“Yes,” the farmer replied proudly.

“I’ll make you a deal. Let me take him and give him a good education. If the lad is anything like his father, he’ll grow to a man you can be proud of.”

And that he did. In time, Farmer Fleming’s son graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin. Years afterward, the nobleman’s son was stricken with pneumonia. What saved him?? Penicillin.

The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill. His son’s name? Sir Winston Churchill.

Someone once said what goes around comes around.

it kills me whenever i find out that a touching story that displays the goodness of the human spirit and good overcoming evil and rainbowsandunicorns is actually false. even more so if the tale has been used as an example of how karma works, or that every good deed does not go without a reward, and all things sugarspicenice.

each time that happens, i feel as if it’s another victory for the bad things in life, as if good things can only propagate through lies. sigh.

anyway, i came across this fable for the umpteenth time while reading up on prominent figures in medicine. it’s also untrue that fleming was “just lucky” when he discovered penicillin – he was already actively looking for a good anti-bacterial agent. it’s time lady luck stopped hogging all the credit!

alright. i’m rambling.

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