MUSC News Center
Bela's Garden honors author's life, provides green view for public
By Allyson Crowell | MUSC News Center | November 5, 2014
Harriet McDougal stared from a hospital window out onto a gray landscape the day she learned of her husband’s prognosis. James O. Rigney Jr., who penned the best-selling multivolume fantasy series “Wheel of Time,” would not survive the blood disease amyloidosis.
Rigney died in 2007 at age 58, during the peak of his career. His hospital room had overlooked an aging metal roof at the Medical University of South Carolina, a bleak corner in a beautiful city. Rigney, who wrote his "Wheel of Time" novels under the pseudonym Robert Jordan, had grown up on rural Johns Island and lived with an appreciation for nature.
Chora trees, a fictional flora created by Rigney, instilled peace into the characters that passed below their branches. The last remaining chora tree, Avendesora, was known in Rigney’s books as the Tree of Life.
When his wife, also his editor, learned from a newspaper article about MUSC’s arboretum project, she saw an opportunity to honor Rigney. The MUSC Arboretum began in 2010 and, last year, the campus achieved federal Tree Campus USA certification. McDougal contacted MUSC’s arborist and joined the arboretum’s advisory board. Last year she committed to funding the transformation of a gray rooftop on the fifth floor of the main hospital into a terrace garden.
MUSC leaders and medical students recently joined McDougal for the opening of Bela’s Garden. Bela, a shaggy brown mare, appeared in the first “Wheel of Time” book and became a beloved character throughout the series. McDougal wore a button for the occasion that said “BELA LIVES.”
Looking up at the garden’s arbor, she said, “The Lady Banks rose is going to cover that whole thing so well.” Her late husband’s birthday had fallen three days earlier, so McDougal said the timing of the dedication “could not be more appropriate.”
Former College of Medicine Dean Dr. Jerry Reves said that McDougal introduced the arboretum advisory board to peer-reviewed research that highlights the link between natural settings and patient health. She inspired university leaders to “do better,” as Reves put it, and to provide a more stimulating landscape for people gazing from the 75 patient rooms overlooking the space that became Bela’s Garden.
“The MUSC Arboretum began several years ago with a mission to transform our campus into a place of optimal healing and learning by creating an urban landscape that invigorates, inspires and teaches through nature,” Reves said. “Bela’s Garden is a source of comfort to our patients, families, staff and students faced with the torments of illness and surgery.”
McDougal read an excerpt about Bela from her late husband’s novel, before guests moved from the rooftop garden over to a reception beneath a live oak tree in front of Colcock Hall. MUSC arborist Nate Dubosh dedicated the tree to McDougal in appreciation of her gift -- and he named it Avendesora.
Allyson Crowell is with the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs