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Memoirs of a country doctor: Dr. Robert ‘Bob’ Keeling

South Boston News
Keeling
SoVaNow.com / October 11, 2017


(This article was originally published in The Sun on June 16, 2004 with the 50th anniversary celebration of Community Memorial Healthcenter — Ed.)



These are the memoirs of Dr. Robert “Bob” Keeling of South Hill. “Dr. Bob,” as he was affectionately known around South Hill, narrated these memories to his wife Dorothy before his death in May 2002.

Dr. Keeling received his BS degree from MCV School of Pharmacy in 1943 and his MD from the Medical College of Virginia School of Medicine in 1946.

A Navy veteran, he served his intern residency from 1946 to 1947 at Norfolk Naval Hospital, served in the Ophthalmology Department at the Norfolk Naval Air Station and was chief medical officer of the U.S.S. Amphion.



This world we live in is mighty hard to beat. There is a thorn on every rose, but aren’t those roses sweet.

— Author Unknown



In the early months of 1941, while a student in the school Pharmacy, MCV, my best buddy and roommate, Bill Quisenberry introduced me to Dorothy Belle Quinn at a Medical college dance. She was a native of Richmond, Virginia, had attended Averett College in Danville on a music scholarship and was then a student at Westhampton College, U. of R. She was an accomplished musician and was majoring in Biology at the college. We dated from that night on until we married on March 18, 1944. Of course, World War II was raging in Europe and the Pacific and most of my friend who were not in school were serving our country in the armed forces! Joined the Navy in the V12 program. The war years were not easy for the civilians left in the states. Rationing of sugar, coffee and shoes was put into effect early on. The rationing books had twenty-eight stamps in each one with a person’s name written on the front. As time went on, gasoline, canned goods and meat were added to the rationing list. We all had to use these coupons as troublesome as they were.

When Dot and I married in 1944 (Dr. Lawton Douglas was my best man and Mildred, Dot’s sister, was her maid of honor) a very generous friend gave us his gasoline ration coupons so that we could drive to Washington, D.C. to start our honeymoon. Having no auto of my own, my brother, Eugene, loaned us his comfortable Chrysler car. We left Richmond after the wedding in a blinding snowstorm, arrived in Washington, D.C. after midnight, arose the next day to find ourselves completely snowed in. After spending two days there, we boarded a train for New York City, which had been our destination in the first place, where we spent the remaining the week. The hotel in Washington was kind enough to store Eugene’s car in a safe place until we returned the following Saturday. Then on to Richmond where I resumed my studies. We lived in a one room on Park Ave., where we could eat in a dining room with other people living at the same address.

Dot resumed her musical career as organist in a Methodist Church, and took a position in the auditing department with the C&O railroad. It was a tightly secured office, involving the numbers of troops traveling by trains to the coast before being sent to Europe. She held that position until three months before our first son was born. At that time, we could find a suitable apartment which would be convenient to MCV. We found such a place in the Pine-Grace Apt. Building across the street from Monroe Park. Charles Zaccharias, a medical student, and his wife Ann, lived across the hall from us. We took turns baby-sitting for each other as their baby son, Charles Jr., was the age of our son, Dan. Today, their son, Charles, is our Cardiologist! Really a small world, is it not?

In March 1946, upon graduating from the Medical College of Virginia with a degree in Medicine, I was commissioned an Ensign in the Navy and received orders to report to the Norfolk Naval Hospital, Norfolk, VA begin my internship. Dot and I rented an apartment on Sheryl Drive in Norfolk, not far from the hospital….This apartment had one bedroom, a living room, a kitchen and a small bathroom. The iceman came every day to put a block of ice in the icebox and when it was winter, the coal man came once a week to deliver coal for the stove that heated the apartment. Dan was a baby and the newest piece of furniture we had was his crib that my mother had given him at his birth. The rest of our furniture was mostly “early attic.” Talbot Baptist Church was in its beginning stages and that church received us under their watchcare. We lived in that apartment until I received orders to report as Chief Medical Office board the AR-13 Repair Ship, Amphion. When the ship went to Haiti, Cuba and surrounding islands, Dot went back to Richmond with our son Danny and stayed until the ship came to the home port of Norfolk. A few months later the ship went into the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City for much needed repairs. We loaded up our red 1947 Ford coupe that the Bruce Flournoy Ford Company in Norfolk, Va had sold us and with Dan drove to New York City in one day. While serving aboard the Amphion in the Brooklyn Naval Yard, Dot and I rented an apartment on Long Island Sound, the beach being one-half block from our front door.



Dot and I bought a small house in Norfolk when we returned to the Tidewater area located in Oakdale Farms, on Mercer Driver (a residential section that had originally been set aside for Naval Officers.) The former owners had planted a large vegetable garden in the back lot and it was our good fortune to move into the house just as the corn and butterbeans were ready to harvest. Dan had a big sand box under a crepe myrtle tree. He spent many hours playing there with a Chaplain’s son who lived in our neighborhood and was his age. Dot joined the Virginia Sympathy Chorus and became involved in music events in the area. I was assigned to the Portsmouth Naval Hospital. The hospital sent a small boat over to Norfolk every morning to pick me up. The same boat brought me back on the evenings that I did not have hospital duty. Of course, we enjoyed the sand and surf at Virginia Beach on the long summer nights as well as our free weekends.

We sold that house when we took up residence in South Hill, Virginia and I went into the private practice of medicine as a family doctor, the type of medicine that had always been my heart’s desire, fulfilling a dedication that I had made to myself as a young boy in knickers. It was one my dreams coming true.

I PRACTICED MEDICINE AS A COUNTRY DOCTOR

The population of the town of South Hill in April of 1949 was around 3,000. We arrived from Norfolk in that same 1947 Ford Fred Club Coupe (the very first car we had never owned.) It was one of the coldest April’s on record and we had rented a house from Miss Martha Montgomery on Route 58 east in town that had no heating system, no closets, and three doors to the bathroom! The neighbors brought in two small electric heaters that we moved around from room to room. In spite of those uncomfortable days, Dot who was expecting our second child, and Dan, our three year old son, and I managed to survive the damp, cold spring. My office commitments and house calls kept me extremely busy and I began my practice with much anticipation and enthusiasm. My first office was upstairs over Montgomery Drug Store at the corner of No. 1 and Hwy. No. 58. C.V. and B.J. Montgomery, who were first cousins, were the Pharmacists. Both of them had fathers, Dr. C.V. and Dr. B.J. Montgomery who had practiced medicine in Mecklenburg County. Dr. B.J. Montgomery also practiced in Alberta, a small town in Brunswick County. In order to enter the doctor’s office above the drug store, one had to climb a fairly steep set of stairs. There were two entrances – one faced what is now Mecklenburg Avenue and the other, which I used most of the time, faced what is now Atlantic Street. There was no stop light. Then the streets were not named and these two streets went by route numbers – No. 1 and No. 58. There was a large waiting room in the office with rocking chairs, benches to accommodate the patients and a hall rack on which to hang coats and hats. There were two examining room, a large treatment room, an x-ray room, two physicians offices, a bathroom, and a small area for the secretary’s desk. My office was furnished nicely with a large desk, my chair and two patient chairs. We had big electric fans to cool us in the summer and big radiators placed under the windows for heat in the winter. My office faced Route No. 58 and I could see the very small stream of traffic going down the highway from my window. There were two entrances to the office, one facing Rt. 1 and the other facing Rt. 58. I used the one facing Rt. 58. One had to climb a long flight of stairs to gain entry to our office and was this always a problem for the handicapped patients. In some cases, we would bring our medical bags downstairs and treat the patient in the back of the drug store.

We parked our cars in Fred Walker’s service station across the street from the drug store and while we were in the office, he and Floyd Jordan would see that the gas tank was filled, the windshield clean, the oil changed, etc. so we could start out on our calls.

This office had been occupied by the late Dr. C.V. and his son, the late Dr. Robert Sterling Montgomery. My partner was Dr. C.V.’s son-in-law, Dr. Willard Fitch. Patients were usually seen in the office from 7:30 a.m. until we finished up around 6 or 7 p.m. Fee for an office visit was $2.00 and for a house call was $4.00. There was no mail delivery and either we went to the post office or our wives went for us. Usually if I went, people would detain me seeking medical advice for all sorts of problems. It was really a part of the family doctor’s role in a small town and I did not mind this a bit. It was truly expected in South Hill. The friendly ladies in town helped Dot adjust to the new way of living. It was quite a different way of life for her as she had been reared in a city, educated at a large high school and received higher degrees from a university. Furthermore, Dot had been very active in music circles, using her talents as a pipe organist, pianist and member of large choral groups in the cities in which she had lived. Danny was enrolled in Mrs. Robert Hines’ kindergarten when he became old enough. It was there that he made lifelong friends that he has kept up with throughout the years.



I was born and raised in Keysville, a very small town in Charlotte County, VA. Our farm house, built in the early 1900s, was about a mile from the town limits and since there was no transportation expect the horse and buggy, most of the time we walked the mile to town. Weather was never considered a deterrent when it came to school attendance. Papa and Mama stressed education and home-work study and we were sent off to school every day regardless of the weather. However, once we arrived home from school, each of us had duties to attend to on our five hundred acre farm. All of the boys worked on the farm and the girls helped Mama in the house. The laundry was sent out to be washed in tubs by our laundry-maid. My special tasks were to care for the cows and horses. The horses were easy to feed and groom and just about every pretty day, I usually managed to squeeze in a ride on my favorite horse around the farm land, and down through the woods to Sprout Spring, a very beautiful area of the land. The cows were much different – they had to be milked very early in the morning before I left for school, the milk brought into the kitchen to be churned and for Mama to store in a cool place. Naturally, I got to drink all of the milk I could hold before heading off to school. It is still my favorite beverage, morning, noon or night! In fact, my South Hill patients, the late Palmer and Alice Yale, and their two daughters, Deanie and Pam, kept milk in their refrigerator for me in case they had to call me for their frequent illnesses during the night! As I became older, Papa gave me the keys to his Professional Pharmacy and instructed me to walk to town, open up early and stay there until he arrived. In the afternoon, I went directly to the drug store after school and assisted Papa with his clientele and prescription duties. This was right down my alley! It also gave me the opportunity to watch Dr. Bailey treat his patients as his office was in back of the pharmacy and many times he would request that I assist him and go with him on his country house calls. Later when Dr. Bailey moved his office, Papa gave me the fainting couch (it was stuffed with horse hair) that had been used in Dr. Bailey’s office. We still have it and use it as an extra sitting space in our home. I looked forward to every moment I could spend in that orderly professional pharmacy. It was the only one of its kind for miles around.

Papa also trusted me to make his bank deposits in the local Bank of Keysville, as well as the Bank of Clarksville in Clarksville, VA. In those days, I received a nickel or a dime of compensation for my work!

I went on to other jobs after high school, spending several summers at a mountain resort in New York State, Lake Minnewaska, located in the Shawanga Mountains of New York State, where I was a bellhop and waiter in the dining room. One year an opening came up at the Princess Hotel in Bermuda. My application was accepted and off I went by boat to that beautiful island. There, in Bermuda, my job was to act as wine steward in their elaborate dining room as well as to serve as a waiter during the dinner hour. Naturally, I knew nothing about fine wines, but the dinner guests seem to enjoy the way we Southerners speak and act and that compensated somewhat for my lack of proper serving technique. My helpful colleagues in the kitchen showed me the appropriate way to serve beverages and how to accept the generous tips that were given to me.

My stay in Bermuda extended well into the Easter season, when the fields of Easter Lilies were I full blossom, a time of the year that was indeed enjoyable. The small salary, plus the tips, helped my financial situation enough for me to return to Virginia and enter pharmacy school at the Medical College of Virginia. That was the year, 1941, that I met Dot. She was a student at Westhampton College, University of Richmond and an organist in a Baptist Church in Richmond. My roommate Bill Quisenberry, who had spent the summer with a cousin while waiting to enter pharmacy school, had met Dot who lived second door from Bill’s cousin, Wallace Lundy. Bill Quisenberry (now Dr. Bill Quisenberry with a Dermatological practice in California) had brought her to a Medical College function. I asked her to dance and we have not been apart since then! We were married March 18, 1944.

Upon graduation from the school of pharmacy, receiving the award for the best written thesis and having been on the Dean’s List for the four years (I finished second in that class) I entered the school of medicine at Medical College of Virginia, receiving my M.D. as a member of the Sigma Zeta, an honorary scholastical fraternity, in March, 1946. At graduation, I was commissioned as an Ensign, USN Medical Corp.

Papa gave me the gold medal that he had received as top graduate of the class of 1898 as my graduation gift. I treasure that gift and shall look forward to passing it on to one of my children or grandchildren.



The medical family practice that I became a part of was a very large, thriving practice and I have stored in my memory many, many recollections of people who were not only patients but treasured friends. Dr. Fitch, my first Medical Partner, left to specialize in Radiology. He and Ann settled in Richmond, VA and later retired to Florida. Dr. Copley McLean, a native of South Hill, became my Medical Partner, as subsequently did Dr. Jimmy Lee Northington, also a native of South Hill, Dr. John Rose from Richmond, VA, and Dr. Henry Tanner, a native of LaCrosse, VA. Dr. McLean became an Ear-Nose-Throat Specialist. He is living in Charlottesville, VA with his wife Peggy. The late Dr. Jimmy Lee Northington specialized in surgery. He and his wife, Ruth moved to Siler City, NC. The late Dr. John Rose later practiced in Fredericksburg, VA where he lived with his wife Virginia (Giga). Dr. Tanner and his wife, Katherine, lived in South Hill, VA.

When we physicians were in our offices, we all enjoyed treats from the Montgomery’s drug store fountain. They were sent up with the compliments of C.V. and B.J.

In the late hot afternoons (we had only electric fans to cool the air) iced Coca Colas as well as large chocolate milkshakes would appear on our desks. In the chilly months, steaming hot cups of coffee were brought up by one of the “drug store girls.” What tasty treats to enjoy! The heat in our offices was furnished by very old radiators that were not very efficient and most of the time, in order to keep warm, we wore sweaters instead of the white doctor’s coat. What a change this was from the formal uniform of the US Naval Medical Corps!

I practiced medicine in that office over Montgomery’s Drug Store until Dr. Tanner and I built a more substantial brick office building on Walker Street directly across from the hospital. That building was furnished with the latest medical equipment and was assessable for the handicapped, an important feature we had lacked in our previous office. We attempted to keep our services personalized in both our office and home visits. The practice became so large we found it necessary to employ Mr. Sterling Price Anderson (S.P.) to handle our finances. We felt very fortunate to have him as part of our office staff as Mr. Anderson was a retired director of the Citizen’s Bank with much experience in the area of auditing. The practice thrived.



When the chief Medical Director of Reynolds Metals International, Dr. James MacMillian, offered me the position as Medical Director of their Richmond plants in June of 1970 and after hours of serious deliberation for three months, my half of the South Hill Office was purchased by Dr. Henry Tanner and I accepted the position with the Reynolds Metals firm. I drove to my four offices in Richmond from South Hill for thirteen years, never finding the trips tiresome or boring. My duties involved treating injured employees of all of the Reynolds Metals Richmond plants. It was a challenging medical practice which educated me in the field of Industrial Medicine.

Medical tapes kept me up to date on family medicine issues and tapes that Dot had made of her piano playing made the drive pleasant. Even the birds and dogs that were always along the highway kept the trips interesting. My times Dot would ride with me and visit with her mother, Mrs. Ethel Quinn, while in Richmond. We belonged to the Richmond Symphony and attended the concerts the first Monday night of each month. Our social calendar was full. Gloria was in college as was Warren, but Barbara was still attending Brunswick Academy so we found it necessary to be home every night with her. Dan and Diane were pursuing their chosen careers.

But back to the life of a country doctor.

The country doctor treated the entire family through all of their illness, from the “cradle to the grave.” What a humbling and gratifying feeling this causes one to feel. The experiences were unique and I shall note several that made impressions on me in the early days. There is always the recollection of that first home visit.

I was called late one night to treat an ill man who lived in the town limits. There was no stop light in town and the directions by his wife were to “go to Highway number 1, turn right at Montgomery Drug Store, pass the old Yancey Department Store, then Vassar’s shoe store, pass the Methodist Church, pass the Baptist Church, keep going” until I saw a large white house with a porch on the front.

Of course, there was no street names or numbers on houses. Believe it or not, I found it with the help of the front porch light, gave medical attention to the man who was not seriously ill (he had a slight case of indigestion which in hid mind resembled a heart attack!) After convincing him that this heart sounded perfectly normal, his pulse was regular, I gave him a prescription, he thanked me, acted relieved, turned out the lights while I was still in the room, told me to go out the way I had entered, and he would pay me when he got a chance. I stumbled through the doorway with that and found my way back home by midnight. His opportunity to pay me never arrived!

And then there was the call to come immediately to see Granny who had turned herself badly. The person calling gave no name or address and since there was certainly no called ID on phones then, it was up to me to figure out the caller’s voice and remember who called themselves “Granny.”

Well. After much muddling around and thinking on my part, I remembered “Granny” (Mrs. Earl Mathews’ mother-in-law) knew where he lived with Mrs. Mathews, quickly jumped into my car and took off for Granny’s house. I treated her badly burned hands, gave her medicine for the pain and all went well. When the daughter called back to report the progress of my treatment, I asked why she did not identify herself. “Goodness,” Edna replied, “I just figured you would know who we were and you did!”

An incident that stands out in memory is when I was called to treat a male patient about 5 miles out of South Hill on a dirt road. After assessing his condition and prescribing the necessary medication, I walked back to my car (followed by a pack of hound dogs – all of whom were barking and breathing on my heels) only to find my Red Ford Coupe (that first car I ever owned) was stuck in red clay mud from the downpour of rain that had fallen while the patient was being examined. This car would not move an inch. After many futile attempts to free the car, the patient, having heard the commotion, peered out of his bedroom window from his sick bed, and becoming aware of my predicament, the man arose from his bed, put on his clothes, wrapped a pillow case around his head, put on a rain jacket, came out in the freezing cold rain, started his farm tractor and pulled my car out of the mire. He did recover, but never again called me to come to his home on a cold, west winter night. In fact, he told me he would rather “stick it out” during the night no matter how sick and come to my office in the daytime.

The next night, right before I was ready to close the office for then night and go home, an urgent call came into the office asking that I please come to the home of an extremely ill woman as soon as possible. The person who called did not explain the problem so I hastily picked up my medical bag, checking it to see that the necessary type medicines were there. The family lived nine miles out on the Kenbridge Road. Following directions give to me, I found myself turned into a very narrow pathway not even wide enough for my car, a trusty Ford “puddle jumper” to enter.

Our first son, Dan, who had come by the office to get a band-aid on his arm, rode with me this evening as he often did. My car had a special, bright spotlight on it which had been placed there with the permission of the local police and I beamed this light right down the path. Dan and I were both surprised to see, waiting for my arrival, the son f the ill woman perched up on a wagon drawn by two mules. After a very rough ride over several deep ditches, we made it to the house. The next evening, I returned to the same pathway with Dan; rode in the same wagon; and found my patient much improved from the treatment received the previous evening. It was an occasion neither Dan nor I would never forget! He never gave up riding with me on those country roads, talking to keep me alert after the day’s tasks had been long, with some cases difficult to handle.

On one very hot summer’s eve, I was called to the bedside of a 104 year old man who was suffering from a stomach ailment. Following medical instructions and after admitting that he had eaten too much watermelon, this alert aged man took the prescribed medication, recovered and lived to be 106.

He was the oldest patient I ever treated in my practice of medicine. This man was never convinced that man would walk on the moon. His theory was that the only way to get there would be with a ladder and there never would be a ladder tall enough!

Several times on other house calls, my second son, Warren, accompanied me. He recalls a time when I was called to a home to treat a three-year-old child. The parents were not helping in relating the incident that caused their child to become ill. All they said was “Baby Thomas cannot breathe.” After a lengthy examination of the child, imagine my surprise – and that of his parents – when my sterile medical tweezers retrieved a fairly large marble, brown in color, from the little boy’s left nostril. The parents were most grateful and said they would pay “when the crop comes in.” The crop was, of course, tobacco in those days and most farmers had to wait until the market sold their tobacco to pay their bills. It was a hardship, but those generous country folk made up for everything by putting bushels of butterbeans, corn, tomatoes, crowder peas, and other vegetables and fruits on our porch in the early summer mornings.

When our son Warren was in grade school, he would always ride with me to the Ted Percy farm located in the country below LaCrosse. By this time, we had purchased a Ford station wagon and the country trips were not as bumpy. Ted, his parents, and his wife, Lorna, were among my very first patients as I began my country practice. Many nights the call would come in late to go down to the farm to treat the old folks. Warren and I would ride to the farm to be met at the door by Lorna, telling us to come in the kitchen for a hot cup of tea for Warren, a glass of milk for me and a piece of chess pie for both of us after I had treated the parents. Ted was quite the bird hunter and he was generous in sharing those quail with his friends, our family being among them.

Warren, now an attorney practicing law in Newport News, VA, remembers these house calls and has plenty of stories to relate to his two children describing his experiences. He does recall that he was at a loss for words to express his feelings after witnessing such an unusual situation as that of the “brown marble” – however, from that moment on, he knew that marbles were to played with and never used for any other purpose!



In October 1952, Mr. Franz Dees, vice president of the Interstate Company, came into South Hill to inspect the Glass House Restaurant, which was the original of a chain of Glass House Restaurants located on the East Coast. These restaurants were operated by the Interstate Company located at 71 East Lake Street, Chicago, IL.

In the early morning hours of the second day of Mr. Dees’ visit, I received an urgent call to come to the Lincoln Hotel at once. Having been up most of the night with a very ill patient, I drifted back off to sleep and had to be called the second time. Dot aroused me and I hastily dressed and was on my way. When I arrived, I found an ill man lying on a bed in one of the front rooms of the hotel. He was doubled-up with pains in his back and chest. Examinations determined that he was experiencing a heart attack. There being no hospital or rescue squad here, it was my duty to gather my wits about me; remember the painstaking, laborious hours of cardiac study and training I had received and try to save this man’s life. After easing his pains, I administered treatment for his coronary condition and sat with him for the remainder of the early morning hours. Mr. H.S. Montgomery and his wife, Ruby Saunders Montgomery, were managing the hotel at that time. Miss Ethel Warren was the hotel clerk and together they prepared a more quiet room for him on the back side of the hotel so that the large trucks changing their gears at that corner would not disturb his sleep and he could rest in quiet comfort. They even provided a hospital bed that they found from goodness knows where. Mr. Dees was my patient in that hotel for, in his words, “forty days and forty nights.” His wife, Evora, whom is called “Boe” came to stay with him as his nurse and companion. With her untiring help, and the assistance of Elizabeth Robinson, who was manager of the Glass Hotel, the help of Mr. and Mrs. “Slim” Montgomery, and the mercy of the Good Lord, the treatment I prescribed worked wonderfully well. Mr. Dees recovered enough to travel on the Orange Blossom Special to Florida with his wife and Dot and I as their guests.

He then returned to his home and resumed his business responsibilities.

About two o’clock one spring morning, the local police came up to our house to ask me to treat two seriously injured adults who had been in a car accident in town. The police brought them to the office and I met them there. They had multiple deep cuts and bruises and were in pain.

G.P. (Yank) Pleasants happened to be driving by and saw the lights on in the office. He was a good friend so when he decided to come it, I decided to put him to work.

In his words, “My curiosity got the best of me. I just had to see what was going on so I came on into your office. You, Dr. Bob, immediately told me to hold the man’s head still while you sutured the cuts. I did that, but the next thing I remembered was lying out on that cold, hard floor and you putting ice water in my face. I had fainted at the sight of blood – how humiliating! Not only that, but you had me come back for check-ups for two weeks to be sure I did not have a concussion. That is one time curiosity nearly killed me,” said Yank.

Much later in life, Yank and his wife, Doris Ann, owned a jewelry store in Newport News. It was in that our son, Warren, bought his fiancé’s engagement ring!

Home deliveries of babies sometimes were made complicated by unusual circumstances in the homes. In one case, right before the hospital was completed, having been awakened in the very early morning hour by Dot (she always answered the phone when I needed extra sleep!), the message as to go to Al Whitten’s store, turn right, go about two miles, turn to the left on the first dirt word, and the expectant mother’s aunt would be waiting to show me the rest of the way. Well, this cleanly dressed black lady was there and she led me to a young girl already in the last stages of labor. She was lying on a mattress on the floor of a converted corn crib, the ceiling so low that I had to get on my knees to bring an eight pound baby girl into the world. The only light in this so-called room was a lantern, hanging from a rafter. Fortunately for me, I had brought my trusted flashlight. Water from the well was in a bucket, clean cloths were piled high on a very small table. The special Obstetrical bag, which I always carried on this type of house call, contained the necessary sterile instruments for a safe, normal delivery of this healthy baby girl. The new mother was made comfortable by an aunt who had brought food in and the baby was wrapped in one of the clean cotton cloths before the sun came up! When making the post delivery house call the next day, needless to say, my knees were the only things in pain.



On days and nights after these very tiring times, when I arrived home, I would ask Dot to play soft music for me on the piano. Being a classically trained musician, she would have a soothing melody to perform in the quietness of our living room. When she asked for my favorites, I would ask to hear the songs “There Will Never Be Another You,” “I’ll Be Loving You Always” and “The Anniversary Waltz.”

The stress and strain would leave me and we would at times have our dinner together later. Other times, the children would be around and we would have sing-a-longs. They were certainly not stage-quality, but it was heaps of fun for me. After all these long, mind searching hours, her music never fails to be the one thing that relaxes my mind and body.

Before the Community Memorial Hospital was built in South Hill (1954) all cases which did not require serious trauma treatment (these cases were sent to hospitals in nearby cities) were treated in the family doctor’s office. This meant setting fractures of the bones, treating sprains, treatment of infectious diseases, as well as treatment of all common ailments. I, as a family doctor, not only sought to ease my patient’s sufferings to the best of my ability, but through prayer, counseled and advised them through many difficult times. These were my days when the words of the Hippocratic Oath – if I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art – became more than jut a mere recitation taken at graduation when my MD degree was bestowed to me.

The Community Memorial Hospital was dedicated on Sunday afternoon, May 30, 1954 at 2 o’clock. $460,000.00 was pledged during a fund raising event in 1950. The Mecklenburg Board of Supervisors donated $15,000.00 to help cover expenses of the campaign. Private citizens underwrote the remainder to insure that all money raised would be utilized for the building of the hospital. Ballou and Justice were hired as architects and engineers. This firm was based in Richmond, VA. I have included the original Dedication Program, along with the Cornerstone Dedication Program at the end of my writings. Citizens of the whole town of South Hill and those of our surrounding communities turned out for these auspicious events. When the new Emergency Room was completed and ready to receive patients, all physicians in the area were required to “take turns” in covering this facility. One evening when it became my turn to “be on call” a young boy was brought in suffering from a very sore throat and a high rise in temperature. After the proper preparation by the Emergency Room nurse, I was called into the small room (we had only curtains then to ensure privacy) to physically examine the boy and diagnose his problem. Looking at the chart in my hand, I asked “And what is your name, son?” He looked at me in total amazement. “You ought to know because you are the one who brought me in that little black bag to Mama and Daddy and were there when they named me.” Of course, with that remark, I quickly looked back at the chart, wheels started whirling in my brain, and said “Certainly. I know you. Your name is Benny George and you live in Bracey. Your daddy’s name is Rufus and your mama’s name is Gertrude. I also know your sisters Gladys, Betty Anne and Faye.” That was a relieved little patient! And he did allow me to continue with the necessary treatment.

Richmond (Dick) Dugger and his lovely wife, Dora, became our dear friends as well as my patients. They built a home in Brodnax on a hill overlooking a pond. Their five children – Dickie, Donna, Doug, Don and Dixie – were close to the ages of our five so that made a fine group anytime we could get together. We picnicked together at Lake Mary in the warm months and we spent many holidays together. It was a tradition to go to their home on Christmas Eve. We looked forward to enjoying the company as much as we enjoyed the delicious platters of ham biscuits, fruits, shrimp with Dick’s hot, hot horseradish sauce, the elaborate decorations done by Grandmother Wilma and not to forget the red velvet cake she made for the holiday. The fire was always lit in both fireplaces. It made for a perfect gathering of friends.

After such a Christmas Eve, the next morning being Christmas Day, our back doorbell rang and there stood Dick with all five children.

It seems one of the kids (we never could get a confession) had turned over the heavily decorated Christmas tree. Dora was rightfully upset as she had spent days getting that tree ready so she took her broom to sweep up the broken ornaments and told everybody to “get out of the house!” Dick decided our house was the place to go knowing that it could have happened to us and we would sympathize with their plight. They stayed all morning. Around lunchtime, Dick decided that enough time had elapsed for the Christmas tree debris to have been cleaned up and Dora to have composed herself enough for them to return home. I doubt that any of the children remember this incident, but Dick, Dora, Dot and I never forget it.

Daughter Diane reminds me of the late afternoon when I was called back to the office to treat a head wound. In Diane’s words, “I went with you Dad and held gauze with pressure to the head wound to stop the blood from gushing out when you were getting ready to suture. Another time, someone came into the office late, Dad, just as you were finishing things up for the day. There was a frantic knock on the door and since I was there, you asked me to open it. There stood a man who had cut his tongue deeply while licking chocolate cake off of his sharp knife! I helped while you sutured. That is the night I decided not to become a nurse!”

Our daughters, Gloria Ruth and Barbara Marie, were content to stay home with their mother or when motivated, to ride their bicycles pedaling over to the office which was just a few blocks from our house, to ask for free chewing gum placed on my desk for the little children patients. Barbara on some of these occasions would help me straighten up the Lab for the night. As for the chewing gum, naturally, on the advice of our two well respected dentists in town, Dr. Joseph Turner and Dr. Thomas Fitzgerald, the chewing gum was sugar-free. Yes, we did have sugar-free products back then! Dot and I have often remarked that the greatest pleasure in our lives has been the gift of our five children by the Almighty. They have not failed or disappointed us and we now enjoy their success in careers, marriage and families. We take great pride in being their parents.

Added responsibilities were the norm for our excellent secretaries and nurses employed by our office. Emma Gene Clements Walker, Nancy Wilson Leonard, Patsy Cannon Carter, Noreen Pritchard, Mary Anna Crutchfield Boze, Mattie Sue Thompson were used to all kinds of “goings-on.” They all helped to smooth over abrupt interruptions by impatient sick people in the waiting room and ease the many tense moments that are always prone to occur in a room filled to capacity with ill people. Mattie Sue, a practical nurse, gave invaluable assistance to our patients. When asked so often the rhetorical question, “Why am I so sick?” Mattie Sue would reply, “It’s in the air.” And that seemed to be a satisfactory answer for just about all of the puzzled patients. She had a soft touch and quiet voice, which appealed to these patients. We were indeed fortunate to have these southern ladies in our employment. The secretaries were sometimes called upon to aid with minor medical situations when we were extremely busy. Mary Anna, a cheerful lady with a smile on her face, would come to our rescue. Not only did she attend to her many duties in a busy doctor’s office, she always brought to the office, when in season, baskets of fresh, juicy peaches and tomatoes from her farm for all of us to enjoy, including patients who usually went home with small bags filled with her peaches. Today, it is juicy strawberries from her farm.

All of these ladies and others who held temporary positions with us accepted their responsibilities, never failing to be kind, pleasant and courteous to all who entered the office. We knew that could not be improved upon for “good public relations.” Patty Locks Myrick, daughter of the late Garland and Claire Locks, related an anecdote which her mother, a respected journalist in this community and throughout the state of Virginia, told her. “Dr. Bob Keeling is absolutely the best diagnostician I have ever come in contact with. I say this truthfully, having lived in many parents of the world and having been treated by numerous physicians. He knows his profession, seems to come by it naturally, and he loves what he does.” I appreciated her confidence in me and hope that I did live up to her compliment. Garland and Claire had bought a farm in Radcliff, VA in the summer of 1957. We had been in South Hill since 1949. It is impossible to relate all the experiences accumulated during the many years of life as a family doctor in a small Southside Virginia town. I recall vividly other unusual incidents, but because of medical ethics, I cannot reveal or disclose them. My files have been overflowing with letters and pictures that thoughtful patients have sent over these many years. It is a nostalgic jolt in memory to look them over and have my spirits soar with humble pride. Even to this very day, my thoughts will go back to times when a trusted patient will stop me at the local post office or in one of many stores and remind me of children I brought into this world, with the help of the Almighty, and treated throughout childhood illnesses. More than often, they will have pictures to help me remember. These heart-warming incidents will never leave my mind or my heart. Our home has been in South Hill for 50 years plus and I cannot think of a more desirable place to call home.



When beginning the practice of medicine in South Hill, I had the honor of knowing and consulting with four highly respected physicians. The late Charles V. Montgomery, M.D., the late Wilkins J. Ozlin, M.D., the late Lucius Bracey, M.D. and later with the late Altamont Bracey, M.D. These four physicians’ high standards of medical practice and ethics set steps in the right direction. It was reliance upon these colleagues with whom I depended upon for needed advice and consultation that leads me to express my appreciation for their firm support and guidance to me and to my family. There were more times than one when I, the newest member of the medical group, was grateful for the help of an older and wiser colleague in a sticky situation.

There were many unusual cases that this group had seen in the office or in a patient’s home and the problem had to be resolved on the spot, so to speak. That made their consultations with me solid and dependable and I was certainly glad to have them around! They were my buddies upon whom I called upon and receive help.

Mrs. Margaret Tucker, a long-time patient and friend, recently remarked to Dot, “If the truth be told, your husband, our family doctor whom we have relied upon for treatment and advice, is a gentle, caring physician and a gentle man. He has the gift of reassuring the sick and gaining confidence.

When asked for his judgment, his medical advice and his help with our medical problems. He willing shared his knowledge and never failed us, pointing us in the right direction to overcome our dread of a particular treatment.” This conversation took place in one of our local grocery stores and when Dot told me about it, I am not ashamed to say it brought tears to my eyes.

In putting all of this together, a trembling, humble feeling of satisfaction touches my soul. The long, long laborious hours spent in study not to mention the nights of three of four hours of rest have their rewards. It causes the sunrise to be more beautiful each morning and the moon more illuminated each evening of the year. That is the reason to look beyond today and concentrate on the blessings of tomorrow.



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