Anika Banerjee ’24 (She/Her), Co-News Editor
Dr. Benjamin Gilmer ’92 is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill School of Medicine, and Clinical Director of the MAHEC Rural Health Initiative and rural health fellowship. In 2018, I have added ‘author’ to his resume.
On Saturday, April 9, 2022, Gilmer held a book signing on the patio behind Summit Coffee, where he introduced the Davidson community to his new book, The Other Dr. Gilmer: Two Men, a Murder, and an Unlikely Fight for Justice.
This non-fiction book tells the unique story of two Dr. Gilmer’s: the author and his former colleague, whom he is not related to, Dr. Vince Gilmer. The latter was renowned for his medical skill and loved by his community, but struggled with mental illness. Dr. Vince Gilmer committed patricide and was arrested for murder. He was sent to prison, despite the fact that he displayed numerous signs of mental illness.
Dr. Benjamin Gilmer wrote his book hoping to spread awareness of discrepancies in the incarceration system that frequently sends the mentally ill to prison instead of providing assistance. Gilmer saw firsthand how Dr. Vince Gilmer was accused of being a malinger and how that preconceived notion determined the outcome of his trial.
“When you see the problem of mass incarceration, especially of the mentally ill up close, it changes you forever,” Gilmer said. “I wanted to speak on Vince’s behalf, the other Dr. Gilmer so to speak […] I wanted to write the story, not because I’m a writer at all, but because I realized after the governor of Virginia rejected our clemency petition in 2018, that getting someone out of prison is all about politics.”
Gilmer had dabbled with writing the book for a while, but, in 2018, he finally committed to the idea. With his busy schedule, Gilmer dedicated 5 am-7 am every morning to write. This was a therapeutic practice for Gilmer: “It gave me a great sort of solace, to retreat into a dark room to write and to reflect. […] Our professional lives as doctors just don’t allow time for reflection.” His new project by him allowed him to both arrive at self discovery and dissect the story.
Once the pages he wrote began to come together cohesively, he decided to get professional feedback. Soon after, Gilmer found an agent.
“It is really important in the publishing industry to have a good agent,” Gilmer stated. “Once you get a publishing contract, that enables you to have more support. That focused me a little bit more and accelerated the process.”
On Friday, April 8, Gilmer held an event in Baker-Watt Science Complex where he spoke to the Davidson student body about social justice and advocacy. He spoke to the students in the STEM and Humanities fields to show how the message in his book has interdisciplinary applications. “We all have to be advocates. We all have to be humanists. It’s not just localized to the right-brain people, it’s left-brain people, too,” said Gilmer. “It requires both hemispheres for full awareness and consciousness. Advocacy is crucial. I think that both scientists and artists join forces in this arena.”
Following his presentation to the students, Gilmer was able to share the fruits of his labor this past Saturday at Main Street Books. In front of a crowded audience, he spoke of hardships of the process and the rewards that have come with it. His former colleague and mentor Dr. Trisha White, a family practice physician in Davidson, interviewed him about the bookwriting process. White, a fellow doctor, noted how Gilmer’s accomplishments can be attributed to his “reverence for life and curiosity.”
I have highlighted the significance of Davidson College’s role in his personal and professional career. He spoke of how curiosity was a crucial component of what he learned at Davidson the primary factor that encouraged him to write. In addition, he shared that his classes from him at Davidson taught him how to be a student for life.
Gilmer’s former professor Dr. Julio Ramirez, the R. Stuart Dickson Professor of Psychology and the Director of the Neuroscience Program, attended the event. “I actually have flashbacks with him coming to visit me in my office, and we’d have long extensive conversations about his ideas about him in the office. It was an utter delight,” said Ramirez.
Ramirez recalled how he was listening to an episode of NPR when a story about the book came up. He said, “It is hard to forget having a student like him […] I’m so thrilled. I can hardly wait to go buy it and read it.”
Additionally, Dr. Bill Mahony, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Religion at Davidson, was one of Gilmer’s former professors and attended the event. He asked Gilmer how he was able to recount such detailed information and conversations from so long ago within his book of him. Gilmer then paused for a moment to reflect. He told the audience, “I sensed that this was a story that needed to be told. I kept a diary and many recordings which allowed me to tap into the dialogue.”
Students attended the book signing as well. “I was super impressed by Dr. Gilmer’s persistence in helping the other Dr. Gilmer. It was inspiring especially as he’s an alum,” said Jane Berick ’23. “This talk really inspired me to get more involved, especially with incarcerated people who do not have the same luxuries as Dr. [Vince] Gilmer in terms of a good reputation outside of prison.”
Gilmer’s book is now being made into a movie. The movie will have a “deeper exploration of different components of this problem and will also look at the role of intergenerational sexual abuse,” he says. Gilmer is the executive producer of the film, but there are three different companies that will be producing the film, the primary one being Concordia films. The feature film will be directed by Jennifer Fox, who won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and her most recent film, The Tale, had two Emmy nominations.
Gilmer has worked to try and help free the other Dr. Gilmer, but it is still a work in progress. When people who were falsely incarcerated are freed, there is still the issue of where to place them. “We do not have the adequate facilities to take care of people with […] mental illnesses,” said Gilmer.
His mission of advocacy will never rest—Gilmore continues to seek an answer to the question he posed this past Saturday: “How can we heal crime? Because it is a system that is so sick.”