Dr. William J. and Dr. Charles H. Mayo worked and lived near each other like the proverbial "two peas in a pod."

Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie, as they are still affectionately called, took the legacy that their father, Dr. William Worrall Mayo, started and transformed Mayo Clinic into a health, research and education center that now touches every continent on earth.

They were so close as brothers that they kept, according to Dr. Will, a "common pocketbook."

Dr. Will had a more-formal reputation, and Dr. Charlie's affable bedside manner is as legendary as Dr. Will's business-management skills.

When they donated their property to create what is today Mayo Foundation, leaving much of their personal savings and the clinic's assets to a perpetual nonprofit, they wrote, "the success of the Clinic, past, present and future, must be measured by its contributions to the general good of humanity."

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Thus, Mayo's sesquicentennial exhibit, currently on display in Rochester's Peace Plaza, is titled "Mayo Clinic: 150 Years of Serving Humanity."

During the Depression, the Mayos often ignored how long it took patients to pay their medical bills. Some patients found the surprise words "paid in full" handwritten across their bills by one of the brothers.

Years later, as the country's financial strength returned, grateful patients eventually repaid the kindness of the Mayo brothers by taking care of missed payments — and by becoming Mayo Clinic benefactors.

Unique association

Dr. Will lived at what is now the Mayo Clinic Foundation House. Dr. Will's home always had fresh flowers inside. Groundskeeper and gardener Joe Bandow was in charge of that.

Dr. Charlie lived at Mayowood mansion in southwest Rochester,surrounded by impressive gardens and ponds.A small zoo included a bear and a chimpanzee.

Dr. Will called his brother Charlie"one of the most illustrious surgeons of all time."

"Our association has been unique not only in the love and confidence we have for each other, but in having made an opportunity for two men to work together as one and share equally such rewards as have come," Dr. Will said on his 70th birthday.

Dr. Charlie typically arose at 6 a.m., was operating on a patient by about 7:30 and left the hospital sometimes as late as 8 p.m. He graduated from medical school the year before Saint Marys Hospital opened and began practicing medicine there.

Dr. Charlie is remembered as a typical father who took 20-minute naps on the sofa after lunch — Mayo family youngsters piled upon him all the while.

The Mayo brothers often made the news, even for visiting a community briefly. For example, in 1912, Dr. Charlie went on a prairie-chicken hunt while visiting the small community of Hallock in northwest Minnesota.

Patient comes first

Members of the Mayo family were lifelong learners. If they heard about a new medical technique that seemed of interest, they didn't just read about it, they investigated and asked the person who developed or refined the idea to show them.

The brothers owned a yacht called The North Star, where they entertained Franciscan sisters from Rochester, visiting doctors and dignitaries.

The U.S. Postal Service produced a 5-cent stamp in their honor in 1964, 25 years after their deaths.

They were both brigadier generals in the U.S. Army, but during their long careers the two rarely left Mayo Clinic at the same time. One always stayed behind to oversee medical care.

They were credited with instigating the needs-of-the-patient-come-first mentality; improving medical care by openly sharing what they learned with other practitioners; recognizing the importance of art, music, architecture and landscaping in a healing environment; creating the centralized medical record and guiding Mayo Clinic toward a nonprofit philosophy.

The Mayo Brothers were inducted into the Healthcare Hall of Fame in 2009, continuing to receive honors long after their deaths in 1939. And Mayo employees talk about them with a reverence few in the history of medical care receive.

Dr. Will coined the phrase "the best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered."

On Friday, Mayo Clinic leaders will be hosting a "Signature Event" where it's likely they'll share their idealized vision of Rochester and Mayo's future.

In that regard, clinic leaders have long tried to follow the words ofDr. Charlie, who said, "if we excel in anything, it is in our capacity for transforming idealism into action."

Each day this week, the Post-Bulletin will publish an article featuring Mayo Clinic history. Mayo is celebrating 150 years since Dr. William Worrall Mayo first advertised his medical services in Rochester. An exhibit titled "Mayo Clinic: 150 years of Serving Humanity" is at the Mayo Peace Plaza through Saturday.