….”A Country Doctor Operates a Medical Practice In a Rural Community Usually Located Miles Away From a Modern Hospital.”
Many retired doctors reside in Arkansas today, and throughout America. While some are remembered, many are forgotten. But not Dr. William J Weaver, a former General Practitioner. Although Dr. Weaver treated poor sick people in Eudora over 60 years ago, many residents from that time still revere Weaver as a Godsend to their community. He was a person who treated and healed people, no matter whether they had money or not.
“I enjoyed all the work I did helping people in Eudora,” Weaver now fondly recalls.
“Just because people didn’t have money was no reason not to treat them,” Weaver said recently.
There are no solo doctors in Chicot county anymore, typical of a sad loss of medical providers across the United States.
Yet in a long career passionately devoted to caring for and treating people in one of Arkansas’ poorest rural regions, Dr Weaver has not one single regret, only satisfaction.
“I loved helping people, to make them feel better,” Weaver explained during interview. Dr. Weaver not only cured the sick. He saved lives too.
“Dr. Weaver saved my brother’s life by giving my mother advice on the phone how to deal with my brother’s serious respiratory problem,” Brenda Williams said. “Had my mother not taken his advice to have my brother transported from another hospital to University of Arkansas Hospital – my brother would have died.”
“Thanks to Dr Weaver – my brother alive today,” Williams concludes.
Bobbie Ann Walker expressed gratitude for Dr Weaver’s patience and generosity towards helping poor people no matter who they were, particularly whenever she or family members were sick, without money to pay upfront.
“All my mother had to do was call Dr. Weaver, and he would just say, ‘Bring your kid on over here.'” Walker now says how Weaver’s generosity toward helping poor people reminded her of “Doc Holliday,” the actor who played a doctor on the popular western TV show “Gunsmoke.”
“People sometimes paid Holliday with a bag of coffee or an apple for medical treatment,” Walker recalls. When told about Walker comparing him with Holliday, Weaver responded with a smile and a little laugh.
“When people didn’t have money I didn’t get an apple. But that was okay.” Weaver added; “I still treated people without money. I took care of them the same as people who could afford to pay.”
“You could call me a typical country doctor.”
Eudora, with a population of 2,269, as reported by 2010 census, is popularly known in the Delta region as the Catfish Capital of Arkansas. A farming and livestock community, Eudora is located deep in the heart of rural Chicot County in the Southeast corner of Arkansas bordering Louisiana and east of Greenville Mississippi. Eudora is also home to Grand Lake, one of the best fishing lakes in the country. Even world renowned Angler Bill Dance visited Grand Lake.
Citizens of Eudora relish the good old days with Dr. Weaver who was always eager to treat his patients.
Eudora Library Manager Mary Bates-Johnson wishes that a good, caring doctor like Weaver could somehow return to the community and treat sick people.
“Dr. Weaver helped many people without money including my family. He would just invite you in and try to find out what was wrong with you. I saw Mr. Weaver at a local store and I told him I wish there was a way for him to return to Eudora.”
Mrs. Bates-Johnson further said Mr. Weaver had a keen ability to examine a person and determine the person’s illness.
Pastor David Green of St. Peter Baptist Church in Eudora remembered a dark period over Weaver’s prominence in the community, recalling how Dr. Weaver’s medical practice crossed over from Jim Crow’s segregation days into the progressive civil rights movement. “Dr Weaver was a good doctor. He treated people when he had to,” Green said.
Green could not resist suppressing his unpleasant feelings during the times he went to Weaver’s office and witnessed, “Many black people waiting until white customers were first waited on.”
Weaver remember those segregated days as well, when blacks and whites were separated from each other in his office.
“Segregation was the law during those days,” Weaver said. “I didn’t like it. Nobody did. But I tried my best to be fair when waiting on people and some people required more immediate attention.” Weaver insisted he never intentionally discriminated against anyone.
Born in Maynard Arkansas, Weaver was inspired by a close relative to become a doctor. Like many achievers, Weaver sacrificed his life to become a doctor. Weaver graduated from University of Arkansas Medical School on June 10, 1952, sixty-five years ago, and subsequently started his internship at Saint Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock. Prior to coming to Eudora, Weaver first opened a medical practice in Hampton, Arkansas between 1953-1954. Prior to entering medical school, Weaver served his country in the U.S. Coast Guard between 1944-46.
“I served my time on a destroyer while in the Coast Guard,” Weaver stated.
Weaver admits he could’ve opened a practice in a larger city like Pine Bluff or Little Rock – yet instead he preferred a smaller city to work as a general practice doctor where he could hunt and fish. Weaver got a lucky break to pursue his passionate hobbies and simultaneously heal the sick when Dr. Robert L. McDonald closed his Eudora practice to work as a Radiologist in Little Rock.
“Eudora was a good place for business and a good place for me to hunt and fish. I love to hunt and fish,” said Weaver. When Weaver arrived in Eudora in 1955 to start his practice the town had another well-known doctor named Byron Z. Binns, affectionately called Dr. Binns.
Weaver offered praise for the fine work by his now deceased predecessor.
“Dr. Binns delivered lots of babies. He also took good care of the people in Eudora.”
And so did Weaver.
“If a person didn’t have money I still tried my best to take care of them.” Weaver acknowledged that money did not stop him from being a doctor willing to treat and help the poor.
“When I first started in Eudora in 1955, I charged $4 for a visit; $5 for a shot.” To deliver a baby, Weaver said, he charged between $50-$75.
“And when I left in 1992; I charged $10 for a visit and a shot cost a bit more,” Weaver says. Though many doctors earned more money than Weaver made, the retired doctor said he managed to make a pretty good living because at times he would see between 20-40 people per day including making late night and pre-dawn house calls.
Weaver had no qualms saying that crime drove him away from Eudora to Lake Village.
“People broke into my house and office so many times until I had enough and left.”
During segregation, Weaver recalls attending medical school with a special person named Dr. Edith Irby-Jones, a blazing pioneer in the medical field, and an icon in the medical field in Houston Texas, since 1959. Irby became the first African-American to attend Medical School in Arkansas, and throughout the south.
“I was inspired to become a doctor with the death of my sister,” Irby said for decades. “I felt if I’d been a physician or if we had money that a physician would have treated her more adequately, and she probably wouldn’t have died,” Irby lamented.
“I always liked Edith; she was a beautiful person, despite the fact she was segregated from(us) white students, under tough conditions,” Weaver said, in a pensive voice. Like Weaver, Dr. Irby’s mission in life was to make sure the poor were treated and given proper healthcare. Dr. Irby, now retired in Houston made good on her promise, and besides previously operating her own clinic in Houston’s historic Third Ward, Irby opened clinics for the poor in Haiti, Mexico, Cuba, China, Russia and throughout Africa.
“She’s a fine lady,” Weaver joyfully stated.
Dr. Weaver’s retirement over 25 years ago has provided him more time to engage his passionate hunting and fishing hobbies. A perfectionist at doing extraordinary things, Weaver mastered the craft of wood carving. Adorned on his walls at home are finished pieces of wood carvings that Weaver proudly talks about. Pointing at a carved wooden Eagle, Weaver smiles, “I won Arkansas State Competition with this eagle.” Only few years ago, Weaver killed three turkeys in Texas while sitting comfortably on his walker.
Weaver proudly says his grandchildren are following in his footsteps.
“I have a grandson soon to graduate from medical school and my granddaughter is a pediatrician.” After having recent neck and back surgery, Weaver’s physical mobility is limited. But he manages to keep moving on like a rolling stone, spending as much time as possible with family and taking care of his ailing wife, Weenie, who helped him run his practice until he finally retired.
Healthcare these days is much better due to advanced technology and more specialized doctors migrating to the United States, Weaver agrees. As Republicans fight tooth-and-nail in Congress to repeal Obamacare, which, if successful, would affect people unable to pay extra costs for healthcare – Weaver strongly feels that poor people should be able to afford quality healthcare like everyone else.
“Healthcare very expensive these days and things should be in place for poor people to afford treatment when they’re sick.”
Reflecting on his age, at 92 years, Weaver’s final words: “If I’d known I would live this long … I’d still be a doctor.”
Journalist Clarence Walker Can Be Reached At: [email protected]
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