Have you ever had a fast-paced day with a pressing “to do” list and deadlines to only be stopped in your tracks? This happened to me recently and I easily tossed away my busy day for the sake of sentimentality? It felt right to give myself permission to stop, reminisce, relive and allow sweet memories to sweep over me upon reflection. I stumbled upon one of my father’s old medical books. It was a book titled Pediatrics. He had done his residency in pediatrics at Duke. I was astounded at its size, heaviness and the wealth of complicated information the book held. I, however, was naturally drawn to the familiarity of his handwriting on the inside cover. He had written a quote by John Wesley that said, “Do all the good you can — By all the means you can — In all the ways you can — In all the places you can — At all the times you can — for all the people you can — As long as you can — “
I had to sit down, as I was so struck by the profoundness of this quote and how it completely stated in just a few sentences the essence of my incredibly, kind father. This was the obvious rule that my father had followed throughout his whole life. He had the well-being of others continually on his mind. He was never one who required credit or attention for his good deeds and services for them. He had an incredibly bright mind, but he was so self-deprecating and unprentious. I didn’t know until after he died that he had graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UNC.
My father was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s when he was 56 years old. He died 9 years later. It is amazing how much goodness he packed into his life. After reading this quote, I closed the book and became swept up with a lifetime of memories. I was totally aware that this quote was the essence of his entire nature of quiet gentleness, as he thought about others above his own needs.
He used to love to dove hunt. When I was 3 years old, he came home after a day of hunting with the pockets in his hunting jacket filled with doves he had shot. I innocently looked up at him and said, “Daddy, why did you kill those little birds?” He was a bit stunned and told my mother that he did not have a good answer for me. His kind and gentle heart apparently took over and he never went dove hunting ever again. I suppose he didn’t want to disappoint his little girl.
After my father finished his residency at Duke, he and my mother were trying to decide where the best place would be for him to start his practice. He went by the medical school office to inquire about the areas of North Carolina that were in special need of doctors. They had a map that had pins in the areas that needed the most attention. He carefully chose the Elkin/Jonesville area to set up his practice. He was well-received and had a thriving medical practice. The going rate at the time for appointments was $3.00 per visit. He struggled with having to bill his cherished patients, many of whom could not afford the payment.
He was a dedicated doctor and cared deeply for the welfare of his patients. He could always be counted on for house calls. He was known for his listening skills and patience. My mother tells the story about how she came home one day and found my father praying by the bed. He told her that he was quite concerned about a girl he was treating. She had pneumonia and a lung abscess and was in serious condition. He told my mother that he had done all that he could to help her. He was in the process of praying for her to return to good health. And she did.
I wrote my first children’s book, The Everlasting Snowman, after my father’s death to explain the natural cycle of life to children. I had a book signing at a bookstore in Elkin shortly after it was available. The girl that my father had brought back to health came to the signing. She was, of course, a grown woman at that point. She told me how much my father had meant to her and her family. I had sweet tears rolling down my face,as I signed the book to her family. I was touched to the core and so proud to have had a father who was so dedicated to the needs of his friends and family.
During the Vietnam War, my father decided to volunteer his time working in a hospital in Cantoh, Vietnam. After he died, we found the journal he kept while he was there. He wrote in one of his entries after a hard, yet gratifying day, “I’m hot. I’m windblown. I’m dirty. Boy, do I feel good!” That sentence captured his entire nature of goodness.
My father had his general practice for 8 years, but he continued to be troubled with having to bill his patients that he loved so much. He had always loved the scientific, diagnostic part of medicine. He decided to go back to school at Bowman Gray to further his career and become a pathologist. He would be paid by the hospital and never have to bill his patients again. He commuted from Elkin to Winston-Salem for 4 years. He then worked at Hugh Chatham Hospital in Elkin as their pathologist for 15 years and had a well-fulfilled career. During this time period, his parents died. But instead of selling their house in Huntersville to make a profit for himself, he decided to donate it to the Boy’s Home.
After my father’s death, my mother found a letter that he had written to her. It simply said, “You and the children have been my whole life, and I want to say this one last time that I am grateful for you and what you have been to me. If I could live my whole life again, I would not change a thing. How fortunate I have been. Please remind the children that their Daddy loves them more than they will ever know.”
I will close with saying that we were the ones who were fortunate to have him with his shining example of true goodness, as he went about his life doing all the good he could — in all the ways he could — in all the places he could — at all the times he could — for all the people he could — as long as he could — — an imprint that will last forever on my heart and soul! Thanks, Daddy! I love you!