November 4, 1995 in Features

Book Of Hope Mormon Doctor Tells Of Her Spiritual Quest While Pursuing Secular Achievement

Hilary Groutage Associated Press
 

Anne Osborn Poelman has a disclaimer in the introduction to her book: “If you are searching for a feminist perspective, look elsewhere. If you hope to find a closet church rebel, you’ll be gravely disappointed.”

Indeed, “The Simeon Solution, One Woman’s Spiritual Odyssey,” offers neither. Instead, it chronicles Poelman’s conversion to Mormonism, her career as a scientist and physician, and her life as a single woman who, at 38, married a high church official.

It is a tale of faith and works, a personal reconciliation of the sacred with the secular, a pep talk to Mormon women.

“It’s been several years that I’ve been deeply concerned about the rising tide and volume of negative comments about women in the church,” Poelman said. “I felt it was time to hear from someone squarely in the center of the mainstream.”

Rebel she is not. But neither is Poelman’s place within the Mormon mainstream at all typical.

At 52, Poelman’s professional vitae runs to 36 pages. She has written nine medical textbooks, and three others are in the works. She hopscotches the globe several times a year to deliver lectures on neuroradiology and has earned dozens of national and international awards.

But, she writes, “The things that I know most surely are known not by intellect but by the Spirit.”

Poelman converted to Mormonism in her 20s and remained actively involved in the male-dominated, marriage-minded church, even though she did not wed until 1982.

How she met and married Elder Ronald E. Poelman, a member of the church’s First Quorum of the Seventy, illustrates her faith-over-intellect outlook.

At the time, he was a widower and she was teaching medicine by day, religion classes at night and was a member of the church’s Relief Society General Board. The pair spoke briefly at a conference, and he made a date with her to attend the ballet.

While on a trip to Florida, she received a spiritual manifestation that he would ask her to marry him and that she should accept, even though she was not in love with him.

“My mother really did ask if I loved him, and I really said, ‘No, but I will,”’ she said in an interview.

“I had the most confirming feeling of peace and rightness. I knew it would be the right thing to do.”

Today, she jokes about it being a marriage arranged by God for the only couple who ever dated, married and then fell in love.

The book’s title, “The Simeon Solution,” refers to Simeon, the New Testament priest who, when seeing the infant Jesus, rejoices at the fulfillment of a promise that if he had faith, he would not die until he beheld the Messiah.

Her demeanor is casual. Radiology students at the University of Utah call her “Annie O.”

Growing up, Poelman was a gangly 5-foot-10 by the time she reached junior high school in Culver, Ind.

“I was plain and worst of all, I was smart. That was the real social kiss of death,” she writes.

She had a mad crush on the captain of the high school football team, but he laughed at her during junior varsity cheerleader tryouts. She didn’t make the squad.

Plunging into her studies, Poelman finally admitted to herself her first love was science. But it wasn’t until she was in graduate school in psychology that she had a spiritual manifestation she should return to Stanford University and go to medical school.

“I guess you could say I was interested in spiritual things before I joined the church, and I knew enough to listen to those things I called promptings,” she said.

She knew nothing about Mormons when she resumed her studies at Stanford. A brief visit to Salt Lake City had left her thinking they worshiped golden sea gulls.

After being baptized a Mormon, however, not all of Poelman’s experiences with her new faith were pleasant. Shortly after her baptism, she was offended when she was told she wore her skirts too short.

As a single woman in a church that emphasizes families, she frequently was asked why she wasn’t married. In a chapter called “Single and Sane Simultaneously,” she writes of learning not to squirm at the question, but to respond, politely, that her marital status was nobody’s business.

Her sister, Lucy Osborn, said Poelman occasionally became frustrated that she couldn’t find a man she could marry.

“She was impatient. She got discouraged. It was very hard for her not to be married,” said Osborn, who also is a doctor and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after her sister’s baptism.

Anne Poelman has received hundreds of letters about the book, published by church-owned Deseret Book. She attempts to explain why.

“I think to everyone this book says: We can do this. We can be LDS women or professional women and have a testimony.

“What I say might be encouraging, uplifting, steadying if you will, because I have accomplished things in worldly, secular terms and yet arrived at the same testimony as they have. I’ve heard from women in graduate school and women at home with a half-dozen kids. They all say the book gives them hope.”

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