As a young man having just received his M.D. degree from the University of Arkansas in June, 1964 I set out for Atlanta, Georgia for my internship at Grady Memorial Hospital having no idea the events of the next 12 months would alter my life forever.
The University of Arkansas Medical School in Little Rock is a good school but is relatively small in patient numbers, and I was looking for a larger training facility with thousands of patients annually. One of my top choices was Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, but fortunately my visit there was in December, and I immediately knew I couldn’t tolerate the extreme winter weather of Chicago. In just a few months after arriving in Atlanta I would discover the wisdom of my choice.
One of my best friends throughout college and medical school was Dan Moore, and he also decided to train at Grady in Atlanta (“the Gradies”). Dan had been married for several years, and his wife Marsha got a job teaching at an elementary school in DeKalb county. After a month or so she began telling me about “a beautiful girl she taught school with” who would be a good match for me. Marsha was always trying to find a good date for me, so I put off pursuing this latest prospect. After about a month of her prodding with no response from me, she said she was giving up on me and recommending her as a date for a pediatrician friend. I reluctantly agreed to go on a double date with the Moore’s. When I went to her apartment door to meet her, and she said she was “Cathy Young” I was immediately taken by her beauty and charm and couldn’t believe she had agreed to go out with me! Marsha had been telling her nice things about me which probably weren’t all true. Our first date was to a well-known pub for young people, and I discovered this type of place was not to her liking, so our next date was to church!
We continued dating over the next month, and I became certain Cathy was the perfect one for me, if she would have me. In November, 1964 I proposed marriage to her and she accepted! There were 2 major obstacles for our setting an exact wedding date. I had to be accepted into a 4 year surgical training program and then had to get a deferment for 4 years from active duty in the Air Force. The war in Vietnam was escalating in 1964 and the military was commissioning all doctors into service unless they were in an advanced specialty training program. Fortunately I was accepted into the L.S.U. Surgical program at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, and within a month I received a Berry Plan Deferment for 4 years! (See blog post; “A Life Changing Letter” ; Oct..2013). We set the wedding date for August 7, 1965 which was 1 month after beginning my surgical training in New Orleans.
Our wedding was beautiful and especially meaningful because Cathy’s Dad, George Young who was the premier building contractor in Fort Lauderdale had just completely remodeled Park Temple Methodist Church. Our wedding was the first event in that gorgeous church. I was in such a groom’s state of mind I don’t remember much of the actual ceremony! I do know I had the words “Thee I Love” inscribed in her wedding band, and I promised to love her unconditionally until death separated us! Our honeymoon was simply driving to New Orleans to our new first home with a few stops scheduled on the way. On my salary of $125 per month in Atlanta as an intern, we didn’t have much surplus cash for a more elaborate honeymoon!
Out first home was in Bissonet Plaza Apartments in Metairie, Louisiana which was about a 15 minute drive from Charity Hospital. Cathy got a job teaching 5th graders in an elementary school in nearby Kenner, and her income was our primary financial source since I was making only $175 per month at Charity Hospital. On our 1 month anniversary date Hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans, and I have written two blog posts about the harrowing experiences of that event. (The Wedding Gift We Didn’t Want; Aug, 2012; The Elevator Operator Aug. 2012).
We had many memorable experiences from our 4 New Orleans years, but none surpass the birth of our first child, John Aaron born on July 7, 1967. At the time we lived in a subdivision on the West Bank, and two of our neighbors and close friends were John and Jean Boyd. They were a retired couple in their 60’s from upstate New York, and became surrogate parents for us in addition to being wonderful friends.
Our next move was in 1969 when I went on active duty in the Medical Corps of the Air Force, and we were stationed at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia. I was the only surgeon assigned to the hospital which gave me the freedom to set my own schedule and have the independence very close to a private practice situation. During those 2 years the most significant event was the birth of our second child, Mary Katharine (Mary Kay) on February 10, 1970. I have written an account of her birth in an earlier post (A Birthing at Moody Air Force Base Hospital; Feb.,2015). We lived in a neighborhood in town with lots of kids and playmates for our children, and were able to enjoy a number of freedoms we had not previously experienced. We decided early on when we began having children Cathy would stop teaching school and stay at home with our children. The additional income from the Air Force of a major’s salary allowed us financially to do well on my income alone.
While in South Georgia an additional family benefit was to travel the 6 hours drive down Interstate 75 to Cathy’s parent’s home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was such a blessing for all of us during those years to spend time with all of Cathy’s family, including her brother George, his wife Dawn and their 2 children Jenifer and George. Cathy’s sister Nancy and son Clay lived in central Florida, and we were able to spend some time with them also. I was fortunate to have been permanently stationed at Moody Air Force Base the entire time since the Vietnam War was in full force and many of my medical colleagues were sent to the front lines to provide care for the wounded.
When I was discharged from active duty in the Air Force in August 1971, Cathy and I made the decision to move to El Dorado, Arkansas to establish our home and where I could begin my surgical practice in partnership with my brother Berry Lee who had been a Family Doctor there since 1957. I would like to say we had spent many hours in prayer trying to decide our next steps, but we were simply good church members and not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. We had spent hours discussing the pros and cons of life in El Dorado, but prayer was not the central focus of our decision-making process at the time.
— to be continued.