There are not many people that I consider legendary. I have no official credentials in mind when I say that. No stats. No championship rings. No “best ever to play the game”. No poster on some kid’s bedroom wall. No trophies. No speeches in front of well-dressed peers who applaud. No memoirs written. No international fame.
Hollywood had The Duke. Football had Walter Payton. WWII had Churchill. Only a twit who has lived under a rock for their entire life would not recognize the legendary status of the greats.
But, to me, the real legends are simple hometown folk who make a difference. Only a few hundred people, maybe a couple thousand at most would ever know who they are. But those people’s lives are better for having known the kind of individual who gives more than he takes for himself. The unheralded Coach or Teacher or Doctor or Preacher or Scoutmaster who did some small thing in some extraordinary way that made them a legend in their own right.
If you ask a thousand boys who grew up in Hampton, GA during the 60s and 70s who were lucky enough to belong to BSA Troop 60, they would all without hesitation grant legendary status to Billy Dan. He was a major influence in the making of men who learned to be prepared for anything life had to throw at us. He knew when to have fun and when to get down to work. When he spoke, we listened. When he laughed, we fell out of our bunks holding out stomachs until it hurt. There has never been another one like him.
That’s the thing, I guess. The mark of a legend. That when it’s over, you realize that there will never be another one. Somehow you have been lucky enough to cross paths with greatness. You don’t realize it at the time, but you feel the loss when it’s gone. And you know with absolute certainty that the world around you will somehow be changed. A little less palatable. Like being told you’ll have to eat pancakes without syrup for the rest of your life.
Dr. Mack and Dr. Martha hung up their stethoscopes last week after 53 years of dedicated service to our town. They ran two clinics. One in Pine Mountain and one in Greenville. They will be missed. They are missed already.
A few folks who go through the grueling gauntlet of medical school have their minds set on making it big someplace. Head of Medicine at John Hopkins. Chief of Neurosurgery at Walter Reed. Driving luxurious cars and living in palatial homes. Playing golf and answering urgent phone calls on the 9th Tee.
Some are the snobby Winchester stuck in Korea and dreaming about Boston Medical. Some are Hawkeye Pierce with mad skills and a little loose with life. Some are the more down to earth Marcus Welby, MD. And my favorite, Doc who pulled more than a few bullets out of Marshal Dillon.
Dr. Mack and Dr. Martha were none of these. When they were finishing up their residency in Rome, GA they got a call from the folks in Pine Mountain. Mr. William Jenkins was on the committee assigned with the task of finding a Doctor for our little town. Dr. Mack had grown up in around Greenville, not far from here. So, there was a chance that a local man might forego the glamour of bigger things and come home to do his life’s work.
A group gathered inside one of the ballrooms at Callaway Gardens. There must have been 150 people in attendance to welcome the new Medical Duo to town. The two young Doctors fresh out of residency were impressed with the shindig. Lots of food and drink. Linen tablecloths and tinkling glasses. More forks and spoons than you could shake a stick at.
Near the end of the evening, Dr. Mack was feeling comfortable with the whole idea of moving his practice to this fine town. The people were obviously supportive. He leaned over to Mr. Jenkins, “Who’s paying for all this?” Mr. Jenkins smiled, “Why, you are. Didn’t we tell you?” The going rate for a Doctor’s visit was a whopping $2 back then. He wasn’t sure how he was going to pay for anything.
A man came to the tree farm one day. He was there on behalf of the USDA to collect some info on a farm survey. An older gentleman, Paul Bulloch was the founder of the Old South Farm Museum in Woodland, GA. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Turns out that he went to UGA with Dr. Mack. In fact, these two old friends rode to Athens together a lot in those days.
“What do you remember about Dr. Mack?”
“Well, I’ll tell you. He was smart. I never saw anybody study so much. I was out having a good time and drinking beer and he was back in his room or in the library studying. But he wasn’t so smart about girls, I’ll tell you that.”
“One time we was headed home from school, passing through Monticello. Mack wanted to stop and see this girl he knew. We pulled up to the house. He got out and went up to knock on the door. In a few minutes, the door flew open. He came running for the car. She was after him throwing stuff at him. He got in the car, slammed the door and told me to get the #%!! out of there. ‘That girl’s crazy’, he said.
I asked him about that story standing in his back yard one morning. He grinned. His only comment, “That girl was crazy.”
The two of them have served this community for decades with faultless selflessness. Anyone could walk in their clinic with or without money. They stuck with it well past the time when most any other doctor would have retired and headed for greener pastures.
One of our kids had an ear that was hurting. We were pretty sure it was an infection of some kind. Dr. Mack took one look and said, “I think we can clear this up pretty quick.” He pulled out a popcorn seed that had been shoved down the old ear canal. Our youngest had a bad fever. Dr. Martha took her shirt off and saw she was covered with little red dots. She told us right then to take her to the Medical Center. “I’ll call ahead and talk to the Doctor. They’ll be ready for you when you get there.”
Doctoring, to them, was about us. It was never about money or fame or prestige. They made house calls over the years. They would open the back door at 7AM if necessary. They were forever students of the medicine they practiced. They kept it simple. They gave more to this town than anyone could have ever expected. They made friends as much as they took care of patients.
I may get into trouble for writing this. Dr. Mack is a rather quiet and private man. He doesn’t want anyone making a big deal out of this. But it is a big deal. To say thanks to both of them. It’s a necessary homage due to a couple of country doctors that make us long to do it all over again.
It’s sad that it has to end. Sad it will never be this way again. But the one truth about legends is that they eventually move on.
Thanks for all the years. Thanks for being our Doc.