Steve Brosnihan didn’t always want to be a cartoonist, but that’s exactly what happened. He never knew he’d meet Dr. Seuss, but that happened, too. Brosnihan has been the resident cartoonist at Hasbro Children’s Hospital (HCH) since the fall of 1991, but he is perhaps better known for being the creator and founder of Good Night Lights, the nightly tradition that features local businesses, police, and other well-wishers joining together to flash their lights from locations in Providence and East Providence that are visible to the patients at HCH, a sign of caring and encouragement to the children from the outside world. But the GNL project wouldn’t have happened if not for the cartooning.
Brosnihan has certainly been published many times, but what sets him apart from other cartoonists is his one-on-one work with the young patients at HCH. Brosnihan doesn’t just draw for them; he draws with them. He uses letters of the alphabet to teach them how to draw cartoons. “When I started asking kids to just use letter shapes, it became easier for them,” says Brosnihan. “I didn’t ask them to draw, just to put letters where I told them. All kids who know the alphabet buy into it.”
“I have seen Steve do exactly the same with an audience of esteemed professors and scientists – draw a few letters and turn them into animals,” says Francois Luks, MD, PhD, pediatric surgeon-in-chief and division chief of pediatric surgery at HCH. “While the adults were clearly a little more inhibited, he got everyone to do it. Genuine kindness really works!” And kindness is something Brosnihan has in spades.
The Bristol resident and East Providence native really wanted to be a restoration architect. After graduating from East Providence High School where he quarterbacked the football team and starred on the baseball team, Brosnihan attended Dartmouth College. The architect thing did not go as planned, so he quickly turned back to cartooning, something he’d been doing since kindergarten. His first published work in a local paper followed and he was off and running.
Theodor Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss, was also a Dartmouth alum. Brosnihan got his address from the alumni office and wrote him a note. Several weeks later and to his surprise, he received one in return. In the spring of ’85, a planned trip to Southern California to visit friends included a detour to La Jolla and an attempted meeting with the great man. Brosnihan drove to Mr. Geisel’s house, who was not feeling well that day but graciously met him outside his front door where the two chatted for a few minutes.
Back at HCH the patients often remark, “Hey, that looks like something Dr. Seuss might have drawn.” Brosnihan never tires of hearing that. “My reply is always, ‘You couldn’t have given me a higher compliment.’”
Brosnihan says he gets as much out of working with the patients as they do, maybe more. Dr. Luks might sum it up best in recounting an interaction he observed with Brosnihan and a six-year-old patient. “He helped her get her creativity on and she forgot her stay at the hospital.”
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