Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dr. Thomas Newton Berry, Mountain Doctor

"If the hat fits, wear it!" might well have been the advice to young medical student Claude Hemphill III from his grandmother, Mrs. Stella Berry Hemphill, as she gave her grandson the black Stetson hat that belonged to his great grandfather, Dr. Thomas Newton Berry, when the younger man entered Emory University School of Medicine in 1986.

It is unlikely that Dr. Claude Hemphill III ever wore the old black Stetson, but it became a beloved symbol to him of the legacy left to him from his ancestor, Dr. Thomas Newton Berry. The younger doctor wrote about the old hat, and told about how it reminded him of his grandfather's service and compassion as a country doctor in Union County following the turn of the twentieth century. The essay by Hemphill won second place in the Emory University School of Medicine's 1990 Class. A copy came into my hands, and I began some avid research to seek to find out more about this doctor of the mountains and how he inspired a grandson to follow in his footsteps in medical studies and practice.

Who was Dr. Berry, and what was his life like as a country doctor?

Thomas Newton Berry (01/31/1870 - 12/11/1927) was the oldest of six children born to John Johnson Berry (1846- 10/12/1921) and Caroline Swim (Swaim, Swain) Berry (1848- 03/08/1923). This family lived in the Shady Grove section of Union County. Thomas Newton's father, John Johnson, was a son of early Union County settlers Elias Berry (1812-1885) and Sarah Johnson Berry (1814-1901). Thomas Newton's mother, Caroline, was a daughter of Enoch and Cynthia Griffis Swim (Swaim, Swain).

Besides Thomas Newton, their firstborn, John Johnson and Caroline Swain Berry had five other children: William Jefferson Berry who married Ila Jane Frady; Martha Lee Berry who married Festus Nelson; James Franklin Berry who married Nora Rich; Mary J. Berry who married Herschell Fields; and Sarah Alice Berry who married Sherman Brown.

Thomas Newton Berry may have been named for relatives, so far as this writer knows. But his father may also have read about the famed English archaeologist, Thomas Newton (1816-1864), who played an important part in discovering one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the mausoleum of Halicarnassus. At any rate, Thomas Newton Berry early-on demonstrated an alert mind and a love for knowledge, much like the English scientist for whom he could have been named.

Thomas Newton Berry married Ora L. Reece, a granddaughter of Solomon Rich, Sr. by his daughter, Elizabeth Rich Reece (her husband's name currently unresearched).

To Thomas Newton and Ora were born five children: Bessie W. Berry (1894) who married Carl Rector; Fernando A. (called "Ferd", 1890) who married Myrtle Coker; Eula M. (1900) who married a McCall; Stella (1907) who married Claude Hemphill; and Christina (1904-1905).

Thomas Newton Berry enrolled in the Atlanta College of Physicians and Surgeons (this later grew into Emory University School of Medicine). He graduated in 1902. He returned to Blairsville to set up his general practice in medicine and served citizens from 1902 through 1927 when he contracted a form of cancer and could no longer continue his practice.

Dr. Berry looked smart in his black Stetson hat, his trademark, to distinguish him from other citizens who wore maybe coonskin caps or "rusher" (straw) hats. Dr. Berry rode astride a stately jet-black horse throughout the mountains to visit his patients. He was there for delivery of babies at $10 per birth. He treated all manner of disease, farm accidents, diphtheria, other contagious diseases, pneumonia. If the farmers had no money to pay the doctor, they would give him corn and grain to feed his horse, live chickens to bear back to Mrs. Ora, potatoes, apples, chestnuts in lieu of money. If they had none of these with which to pay, their bill was conveniently forgotten.

In 1917 when the plague of influenza was rampant, he made house calls with his medical bag, saddle bag and pockets full of medicines he had secured from a pharmacy in Atlanta. Even his most valiant efforts in combating the spread of the disease saw many people, young and old alike, succumb to the disease.

Not only did he make house calls, but patients came from outlying communities to see the doctor in his office in town. Oftentimes, Dr. Berry and his kindly wife, Ora, would give the patient a bed and board for the night at no extra charge, where they could more fully nurse them back to health.

Dr. Thomas Newton Berry died December 11, 1927 and was buried in the New Blairsville Cemetery. His beloved wife, Ora Reece Berry, died four months later on April 16, 1928. The Berry legacy is rich in good deeds and rich memories

Stella Berry Hemphill told her grandson, Claude Hemphill III, in 1986 when she gave him his grandfather's hat (according to the prize-winning essay): " I hope you appreciate it (the hat) and keep it in a special place."

Young Dr. Hemphill wrote of this legacy, and his own "calling"—like that of his grandfather to be a doctor—"I hope (as I start my medical education) to be able to use technological and scientific understanding to improve the treatment of many medical problems. I hope that I can make contributions in research, both basic science and clinical. Yet, I feel that all these things must be tempered with honesty and compassion in the treatment of patients. My great grandfather's hat doesn't fit too well now. As I go along, I plan to break it in and hope it will fit a little better as each year goes by."

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 28, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dr. Thomas Jackson Lance, President of Young Harris College, 1930-1942

Dr. Thomas Jackson "Jack" Lance (31 Jan 1886 - 27 Jan 1880)
President, Young Harris College, 1930-1942

Among great persons who have gone out from Union County and served mankind with dignity and unselfishness, we must applaud Dr. Thomas Jackson Lance, educator and humanitarian, who was president of Young Harris College during the difficult times of the Great Depression Years, 1930-1942.

Thomas Jackson Lance was the first of twenty children born to his father, James Washington Lance (1861-1940). Jim Lance, as his father was known, was a farmer at Wolf Creek, north of Vogel State Park in Choestoe District, Union County, Georgia. The mother of Thomas Jackson, better known as Jack, was Virginia Jane L. Henson (1863-1916). Jack, their firstborn, was born January 31, 1886. It is possible that the young boy had a memory of his grandfather, the Rev. John Lance (1834-1890), who was brutally murdered by moonshiners after returning from a preaching assignment. Jack's father, Jim Lance, spent much time and effort trying to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice. That story has been adequately covered in Charles Hill's excellent book entitled Blood Mountain Covenant.

Since Jack Lance's family was so large, it seems somewhat of a miracle of the mountains that he was able to get an excellent education and become the shining light among educators that was his calling. After a long and useful life of 94 years, Dr. Thomas Jackson Lance died January 27, 1980. I was able to access the eulogy given at the time of his memorial service by the Rev. Edgar A. Padgett of the Calhoun, Georgia United Methodist Church. From this tribute I learned much about the man whose life was marked by selfless service to others.

Being from a large family, and the eldest of the children, early on Jack Lance learned to bear his weight around the farm on Wolf Creek. His full siblings, born to his mother, Jane, were Juan Bascomb (1888-1958), Lena Mabel (1891-1946), Sarah Theodosia, "Docia" (1894-?), Luther Edgar (1897- ?), Fannie Lee (1900-?), Carter Paul (1903-?), Homer E. (1906-?) and Mary Emma Louis (b/d 1908). Jack's father, when Jack's mother, Jane, died, married Melissa Spiva. Jack's half-siblings from this marriage were Elbert, James C. known as Jay, Auburn, Champ C., Bruce M., Charles F., Johnny W., Donald Ray, Grace Jane and Betty Jean (died as infants), and Bobby Gaynell. From his early life Jack Lance was taught the virtues of hard work, honesty, kindness, good manners, and a love for education.

After having learned what he could in the one-teacher schools of Choestoe, and at the knees of notable teachers and preachers there, Jack Lance went to Young Harris College for further education. The college took him in, giving him work on the farm to earn his way. He was an exceptionally gifted student. He graduated from Young Harris in 1908, with high honors.

From Young Harris, he continued his education at the University of Georgia where he earned both the Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees, and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa National Scholastic Society. His doctor of philosophy degree came later, but the information of where he earned it is not presently available to this writer.

He wanted to teach. His career as an educator included classroom instruction at Hopewell High School, at Richmond Academy in Augusta, at Young Harris College, and then as an administrator for 13 years, serving as superintendent of schools in Waynesboro, Georgia.

His Alma Mater, Young Harris College, having already his record as a student and as a professor there, tapped him as president of the college. He served admirably in that capacity during some difficult years, beginning in 1930 and continuing through 1942. I wish the span of this short article could list all the hardships he faced in keeping the small mountain college above-board financially and operable during some of the darkest years of America's Great Depression. Suffice it to say that his hard work, faithfulness and industry during that span of his career saw him inducted into and honored by the Kappa Phi Kappa National Honor Society for Distinguished Educators.

Of that period of Dr. Jack Lance's career, the Rev. Edgar A. Padgett wrote: "He lived with deficits as his daily companion, but managed to keep Young Harris alive, serving the needs of so many who without it would have had little, if any, chance for a college education… Dr. Lance always found a way to help a deserving student stay in college. Many of our most distinguished citizens of Georgia have testified that they owe their start in life to Dr. Lance who inspired and encouraged them to keep trying, with the assurance of his help."

Thomas Jackson Lance married Annie Rose Erwin who graduated from Young Harris in 1913. To them were born four children: Thomas Jackson, Jr., Robert, Alice Rose, and Thomas Bertram, "Bert." Many will recognize the name of Bert Lance as a cabinet member during the time Jimmy Carter was president of the United States. From Young Harris, in 1942, the Lance family moved to Calhoun, GA and there the children were reared. He was superintendent of schools at Calhoun for two years, 1942- 1944, and then he began a sixteen year tenure with the State Department of Education in Atlanta as a state school supervisor, having as his goal improving the quality of education for every public school student in the state of Georgia.

It was said of Dr. Lance that he had a phenomenal memory, even into his later years. He never forgot a name, a face, a favor, a verse of Scripture, an experience. From his rich well of experience he could recall where he had met people and what they did.

He loved his family, his home, and the classroom. Although many years of his illustrious career were spent in school administration, his first love was teaching. It has been said of him that the "moments of illumination" when a student "sees" through a problem and has an epiphany of insight were, for him, thrilling and emotional experiences.

Considering the "opportunites" this country boy had to become "somebody," they were slender, indeed. But mountains were a challenge to him, and doing good was his second nature. "Lives of great men all remind us, /We can make our lives sublime,/ And, departing, leave behind us / Footprints on the sands of time." So wrote poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. So lived Educator Dr. Thomas Jackson Lance.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 21, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Light in the Window--Ros's Story

The late Charles Roscoe Collins of Choestoe in Union County, Georgia, about whom I have written recent articles, told me the following story. In fact, he wrote the story June 2, 1991, and hoped it would survive to give hope and encouragement to any who heard or read it. I give you Ros's story here, with some explanations and additions to give fuller meaning to the account he told of that long-ago time in 1926.

Charles Roscoe Collins was a student at the Blairsville Collegiate Institute. The year was 1926. The mountain school had been opened in 1904, sponsored by the Notla River Baptist Association. Later, the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention also began support of the school, adding it as one of the Board's mountain schools. Students could board there and go to school, or else live in cabins or rooms in town, do their own cooking and laundry, and go to classes at the Collegiate Institute. To be able to go to this school was a privilege, indeed, as education beyond the seventh or eighth grade of one- and two-teacher country schools was about the extent of educational offerings then in Union County.

Mr. W. P. Lunsford, a man of deep piety and well-qualified as a school administrator and teacher, was headmaster at the Blairsville Collegiate Institute in 1926. Mr. Lunsford, wanting the students to have opportunities in drama, had cast a play with several boys and girls as actors. The play was well-received in its debut at the school when performed there. Mr. Lunsford got the idea that the drama should go "on the road."

In his recollections, Mr. Charles Roscoe Collins did not remember the title of the play, but he did remember the names of all the male characters. He said there were roles for the girls, too, and several of them starred in the play. The male actors were Joe Brackett, Tom Conley, Walter Hyatt, and Roscoe Collins.

With their hometown's hearty reception of the play fresh in their minds, the cast eagerly loaded into the two Model T-Fords that would transport the actors to the Lumpkin County High School in Dahlonega, Georgia where they were scheduled for a performance. One of the cars in which they traveled was Mr. Lunsford's Model-T. Another was rented from the Ford Dealership in town owned and operated by Mr. Pete Henson. This vehicle was to be driven by one of the students, Walter Hyatt, an actor in the drama.

The entourage arrived in Dahlonega on time and without incident. They performed the play to a responsive audience. By the time the play was over, it was night time, and snow had begun to fall.

The two cars loaded with the cast carefully made their way over the mountainous road from Dahlonega. As the Wyatt-driven, rented car, loaded with the male cast members, arrived at Cain Creek, the slippery condition of the road (and perhaps the inexperience of the student driver) caused the rented Model-T to go out of the road. Wyatt lost control and the car turned over. Fortunately, none of the riders or the driver were injured—just badly shaken up.

Mr. Lunsford and the girls were traveling behind the rented car. They stopped to lend aid to the overturned vehicle and the shaken-up passengers. They turned the car upright and got it back onto the road. The wreck took the top and windshield from the car. Mr. Lunsford went to town to get gas and oil, for the wreck had spilled those necessary items from the Model-T. They refilled the radiator with water from Cain Creek.

Mr. Lunsford told the boys it was their job to get the car back to Blairsville, and to be more careful. He proceeded ahead of them with his car loaded with the female cast members. The boys got to Quillian's Corner, but not without more car trouble. The motor would die, and with each incidence of the car stopping, one of the boys would take turns turning the crank in front of the car to get the motor going again.

They finally saw Neal Gap looming ahead. At the sharp curve south of the Gap, the car ran out of gasoline. Wyatt and the other boys thought it best to leave the car and walk the rest of the distance. Snow was building up on the ground. It was not an easy journey, climbing up the mountain, crossing it on foot at night, and starting the descent on the north side.

North of Vogel State Park, at Goose Creek, they saw ahead a welcome sight. A light in the window. It was coming from the home of Juan and Emma Lance Reece.

Tired from a long day before, the performance of the past evening, the misadventures of an automobile accident, and the walk over a rugged mountain at night, the four boys were exhausted. Dared they make their presence known to the Reece family and seek a little respite from their problems?

Emma Reece was cooking breakfast. Roscoe, who knew the Reece family, was appointed the one to knock on the Reece door and explain the boys' plight. Mr. Juan Reece answered the door, and invited the cold, tired cast inside.

By then Mrs. Emma Reece had come from the kitchen to welcome the unexpected guests. She assured them she could easily add to the Reece breakfast fare and would soon have them food that would squelch their hunger and last them until they got back to the dormitory at Blairsville Collegiate Institute.

Four boys sat down to a hot breakfast: hoecake bread made from flour milled from the Reece's home-grown wheat, fatback bacon fried to a crisp, thick sawmill gravy and scrambled eggs. "Four boys had never had a better breakfast," wrote Collins in his memoirs 65 years later.

At the time of the intrusion at the Reece family's breakfast, Byron Herbert Reece, who would grow up to be a noted poet, was nine years of age, a shy boy looking on as the ravenous high school lads ate the breakfast his mother prepared. His little sister, Jean, was about three at the time. Sister Eva Mae and brother T. J. were older.

In recalling the welcome of the Reece family, Roscoe Collins wrote, 65 years later: "There was the warmth of the open fire and shadows on the walls from the flickering oil-burning lamps. I am sure the mother and father gathered the children around these scenes and read from the Treasured Volume stories that helped to shape the life and thoughts of Byron Herbert Reece."

A collegiate institute, a drama to share, a rugged trip over mountains, and, finally, a light in the window welcoming weary travelers. Is it any wonder Charles Roscoe Collins remembered this story vividly 65 years after it happened?

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 14, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.