I recall once driving with him by a house in the outskirts of town, on the porch of which stood a poorly dressed woman and a small child, and he remarked, "I was called in to attend that woman in childbirth when the attending physician had given her up as a hopeless case. You see the child standing there with her." After a few moments silence he said, "During my life it has been my good fortune to be able, in many similar cases, to save the lives of either a mother or a child or both, which, without my interposition, would have been lost. That is the greatest satisfaction I have gotten out of life." In this particular case the family was so poor that he never submitted a bill. I am sure that during most of his life at least a fourth of the work that he did was never even entered on his books, because the family couldn't afford to pay for it.
Although he had, I believe, the best practice in Ft. Smith, without doubt, it was a very rare thing that, when all the bills were paid at the end of the month, there remained in the bank any appreciable balance, although we lived a most simple and economical life. Perhaps the fact that the regular price, in those days, of a house visit was $2.00 and of an office visit and prescription $1.00, as compared with 5-10 and 3-5 dollars, respectively, today, had something to do with this.
A few years after we moved to Ft. Smith Father was elected Alderman in the City Council, from our ward. The city government, at that time, was in some disrepute (as was probably the case in most cities). The 2nd ward contained a number of the most prominent businessmen in the city, and they had urged father to run for Alderman and to do what he could to correct the trouble. In those days the street lights were arc lights, and the local Power Company had, for some years, had the contract for supplying the power for these lights at $100 or more per light per year. At the time father joined the Council this contract was due to come up for renewal in a few months. He knew nothing about electric lighting, but something he observed excited his suspicions about this contract. He set to work to make a study of the cost of municipal lighting plants. He bought what periodicals he could that dealt with the subject and wrote to a number of cities where studies had been made of the matter and had led to the installation of municipal lighting plants and obtained copies of these studies. After a careful study and analysis of all the data available, and considering that Ft. Smith had available readily an unlimited supply of fine coal at a cost much less than in most cities, he concluded that the price in the contract was excessive and that a reduction of 50% would still leave a reasonable profit for the Electric Light and Power Company, and he determined to fight, in every way possible, for such a reduction when the matter of renewing the contract came up. The proponents of renewing the old contract learned of his investigation and became quite concerned about it.
A few weeks before the matter was to come up for a vote several prominent men, all patients of father's, came to his office, and one of them said, "Doctor, we are all good friends and good patients of yours and we are beginning to worry some about your health. You look tired. And we know that you haven't had a rest or a vacation in ten years, and we have decided that the time has come when it is essential to your good health that you take a vacation. We are so anxious for you to do so that we would like very much to send you and your wife on a trip around the world at our expense." Father had been looking over the members of the delegation while the spokesman was speaking, and he at once noted that while they were all good patients of his they were also stockholders in the Electric Light and Power Company. With a smile which, I imagine, would have done credit to the Mona Lisa (or to Perry Mason) he assured the group that he appreciated their thoughtfulness and consideration but that he regretted that he could not possibly leave town at that time. When the matter came up in the Council his presentation of the case was so convincing that public opinion forced the renewal of the contract at the substantially reduced rate that he had recommended, thus resulting in a considerable reduction in the city expenses. I mention this incident because of its bearing on another incident 15 or 20 years afterwards, which I shall tell you about later when I come to it.
For some years father was President of the Medical Examining Board, which examined applicants for a license to practice medicine. One day there walked into his office a young man, roughly dressed, in a flannel shirt, with his trousers in his boots, but with an intelligent looking face. He introduced himself and said, "I would like to be examined for a license to practice medicine." Having noted, with some disfavor, his general appearance, father asked him, "What do you know about medicine?" The young man looked him straight in the eye and replied, "Well, Sir, it is my understanding that that is what you are here to find out." It was the custom of the Board for each member to give an applicant an oral examination in certain subjects. Father, being somewhat taken aback by the apparent cockiness of the young man, made an appointment with him for an examination at an early date. At that time the young man produced a diploma from the Johns Hopkins Medical School (one of the very best in the country) and father proceeded to ask him the questions that he usually asked applicants. The man answered every one of them correctly and concisely. Father decided that the applicant was still a little too cocky and he decided to take him down a bit. He had just purchased and carefully studied a new medical book covering the latest theory and practice of gynecology. The book had contained a full discussion on, as I remember it, the probable benefit to be derived in certain cases of cutting some nerve, which father had found very interesting, and he asked the young man casually to discuss this matter. He answered, without hesitation, "That is a difficult question for me to answer definitely. So and so of Vienna says so and so; So and so of London says so and so; So and so of Johns Hopkins says so and so. I do not know which of them is correct." This led to a lengthy discussion which proved much more enlightening to father than the book he had thought to be the last word on the subject. He told the young man to report to the other members of the Board for their examination and then to return to him. He questioned each of the examiners as to the result of his examination and they all concurred that the candidate had made an almost perfect score. When the applicant returned to the office, father told him to sit down, and said, "Here is your license to practice medicine. And I do not hesitate to tell you that you are the best qualified young doctor that I have ever had occasion to examine. Now who in the hell are you?" The young man smiled, and, after a moment's thought, told his story. The name he had given was an assumed one. His real name was So and so. His father was a prominent and wealthy man in Memphis Tennessee. From boyhood he had planned to study medicine, and his father had gladly given him every thing in the nature of an education that he could desire. He had graduated from one of our leading Universities, had graduated medicine from Johns Hopkins and had
interned there for several years, had then spent three years studying in Vienna and in Germany under some of the most famous medical authorities, and had then come back to Memphis to begin practice. Shortly after his arrival there he had had a quarrel with a man whom he had shot and killed. The circumstances were such that his lawyer, an old family friend, had advised him to leave Memphis, for some unknown destination, and to live there, under an assumed name, for years if necessary. He had come to Oklahoma and had been offered the position of physician to one of the big coal mines, at a salary of $500 a month (which was a lot of money in those days) which he desired to accept. Father felt considerable sympathy for the young man and gave him what help and encouragement he could. He knew that the mine was located in a very rough mining community, in which it was unlikely that the young doctor would find any congenial associates, and he could not but wonder somewhat as to what the future might have in store for him. Father received a few letters from him, but in a few months they ceased. Several months later he learned the reason. The young doctor, in his loneliness, had married the pretty but ignorant waitress in the Lunch Room where he got his meals. A couple of months later he had killed himself.
At the time of his retirement from his practice father had, for many years, been Chief of Staff of the Hospital (the only one in the city). It consisted of a large former private residence which, with some alterations, had been converted into a hospital. Its bed capacity was quite inadequate to meet normal needs. This was shown clearly at the time of the tornado, in about 1898. It was a hot, sultry summer evening, with a stillness that was oppressive. At about 11 p.m. it suddenly began to hail and then to rain, and in a few minutes the wind reached tornado strength, and for a few minutes our house was on the verge of collapsing, after which the wind gradually died down. The electric lights and the telephone had gone out. Father, realizing the nature of the emergency, hurried down the few blocks to Garrison Avenue, the main business street, and I went with him. We found out that the tornado had passed across the center of the city, levelling with the ground practically all buildings in a path about a block wide. Some of them had caught on fire, and the Firemen had turned their hoses on the flaming ruins. We could hear the screams of some of those who, having first been seriously injured by the collapse of the building, had been pinned under the wreckage, then burned seriously by the fire and finally drowned by the water. A few bodies had been brought out of the ruins and were being sent to the morgue. (I saw over a hundred bodies in it before morning.) It was not possible to find out the extent of the damage as the telephones were mostly out of service. Father directed me to run to the Hospital and tell the Head nurse to take steps to set up every bed or cot that could be set up in the building (including the stairs) and to prepare to handle perhaps several hundred injured patients. I recall that she seemed to think that, in my excitement, I was greatly exaggerating the seriousness of the tornado, and then she seemed to be quite doubtful about the need of such an all out effort as I had indicated. By morning every possible space in the hospital, including the halls and the stairs, was occupied by injured. Approximately 125 people were killed, many of whom I knew. This was the first, and the last, tornado that ever struck Ft. Smith, or that I have ever witnessed, and I hope that I shall never see another one.
There were many queer, and to us inexplicable, things that happened during this tornado. One that I recall particularly was that it seemed to bounce up and down. Thus it flattened out a small store in its path, just across the street from the new High School, bounced over the School building and levelled to the ground all the buildings in the block of residences just beyond the School building. The damage to the High School was due chiefly to the fact that two large and heavy chimney tops above its roof were toppled over, falling down through the building to the basement. I happen to remember this particularly as one of these chimneys fell on top of my desk in the study hall. Had the tornado arrived at 11 o'clock a.m. instead of at 11 o'clock p.m. I would probably not have remembered it so well.
Father had, for some years, been trying in every way possible to find a way to build a new and adequate hospital, but he had not been able to develop sufficient public interest in the matter to make much headway. The tornado served to focus interest on the need for a modern hospital of the capacity to meet the actual needs of the city, and he determined to take advantage of this interest to push the project to completion if possible. He devoted all his spare time to this effort, writing many letters and taking every other step in his power to secure the money needed for the purpose. Finally after a year or more of ceaseless effort, he had been able to secure promises for perhaps half of the minimum amount required, and he felt that he had just about reached the limit of his resources and that there existed no alternative to abandoning the entire project. He was sitting at his desk one morning, turning the matter over in his mind and feeling very low in spirit, when his phone rang and the caller said, "Doctor, this is Jim Sparks. I want to talk to you and I want to ask if you will come to my office for a few minutes. Can you come?"
Jim (I think it was Jim) Sparks was President of one of the largest banks in Ft. Smith and was probably one of the wealthiest men in town. He had lost his entire family (except one son, who was no source of pride to him) some years before, when a ship on which they were travelling went down off the West coast, with the loss of all on board. Father knew him personally only in a casual way. When he arrived Mr. Sparks asked him to sit down and said, "Doctor, I understand that you are about ready to give up the idea of building a new hospital. Will you tell me just what the situation is?" Father explained the situation and explained with much regret that he had just about arrived at that decision. Mr. Sparks then said, "I have been much interested in the efforts that you have been making to get that hospital built. I realize fully the difficulties that you have met with, and I was afraid that you would find them impossible to overcome. I also feel that if you can't get the hospital built nobody else in Ft. Smith can. I know the urgent need for the hospital and I would hate to see it given up. Doctor, we have never had occasion to become very well acquainted with one another, but I don't mind telling you that I have followed your career with great interest for a good many years and I know more about you than you probably realize. I have complete confidence in your integrity, in your ability and in your professional qualifications. I have asked you to come over and see me because I want to tell you that I have decided that I will provide whatever funds that are necessary to complete the construction and equipment of the hospital on two conditions: first, that you will continue as Chief of Staff of the hospital during its construction and thereafter as long as you may consider it necessary or advisable that you do so, and, second, that the hospital be called the Sparks Memorial Hospital, in memory of my wife."
This generous proposal was carried out in full and enabled a modern and adequate hospital to be provided for Ft. Smith.
Before leaving this subject I may add that Jim Sparks was one of the principal owners of the Electric Power and Light Company, and that I have no doubt but that he had occasion to know about, and bear in mind for many years, the incident some 15 or 20 years before, of which I told you earlier, when a tired and struggling young doctor declined to avail himself of what he was quite certain was the only opportunity he would ever have to take a pleasure trip to far off places.
I have given you this long, and doubtless dull, account of the origin of the Sparks Memorial Hospital for this reason: The last time I was in Ft. Smith was in 1937, when I and my brother Drew went back there to bury our mother beside our father. At that time I was impressed with the fact that in the generation since my father's death practically all his friends had died, and there were very few people indeed who remembered him or knew anything about him.
So far as I know this is the only record that has ever been made, or that will ever be made, of his contribution to the existence of this fine hospital.
I recall a little incident that occurred shortly after the new hospital was built. One morning a prosperous looking farmer, of about 60, came into Father's office, introduced himself as (say -- I do not remember the name) Edward Williams, from a small Oklahoma town about 75 miles away and said, "My boy Tom, 20 years old, while unloading hay day before yesterday, fell and dislocated his hip. Two doctors have been working on him ever since without being able to help him in any way. They have worked with his leg so much that he can't stand the pain of having them touch him now, and they have given him so much anesthetic that they are afraid to give him any more. They tell me that a large, flat muscle that normally holds the hip bone in its socket has slipped between the bone and its socket and that they can't do anything about it. They say that they are afraid he will never be able to walk again. They have suggested that I bring him to the hospital in Ft. Smith and get the best doctor here to see if there is anything that can be done for him. Jim Johnson (a long time patient and friend of father's) has advised me to get you to take the case. Will you?" Father told him that he would provided the boy was brought immediately here by special train this morning. The father then said, "If you say so, I'll have him brought here by special train this morning. Before I do, however, I want to say this: This boy is my only son. He is a fine boy and he will have to take over my business when I am gone. If he is so crippled that he can't walk, he can't do that. Now, doctor, I am a businessman, and I like to do things on a business basis. I am able to pay any amount that is necessary to give the boy the best medical attention that money can buy if it will enable him to walk again. I'll pay you a thousand dollars if you will guarantee that he will get well, but I want a guarantee before I turn him over to you." Father replied, "I do not practice medicine on that basis; neither does any reputable doctor. If I take the case I shall give the patient the best treatment I know how to give him, and I shall charge whatever I think is fair and reasonable. If you don't consider that this is the only proper way in which I can take the case, then you will have to get someone else to take it."
After considerable discussion Mr. Williams reluctantly accepted this, and the boy was brought to the hospital that afternoon. Father had him put into bed, gave him a mild sedative and let him sleep until next morning. I heard him talking on the phone to Dr. Southard, with whom he frequently consulted, telling him, in effect, "Look on page so and so of ( a recent book) and study carefully the manipulation there described for reducing a dislocation of this type. You will note that it requires two operators. I want you to act as No. 2 and I'll act as No. 1. I'll arrange it so that we both can get our hands in the proper positions and when I give you the signal you quickly lift the leg at the knee and turn it and I'll manipulate the thigh." That afternoon Father, Dr. Southard, and the boy's father (who insisted on being present) came to the boy's bedside. Father talked to him quietly and assured him that he was not going to hurt him but meant merely to examine the joint. Gradually he and Dr. Southard got their hands into the proper positions, and on a signal they both manipulated the leg. The boy started to cry out in pain, then sat up and shouted "It's back in. I felt it go back. It's all right." It had taken perhaps five minutes. In a few days the boy returned home, fully recovered. Some weeks later Father sent Mr. Williams a bill for $200. In a few days he received an intemperate letter from Mr. Williams to the effect that it was utterly unreasonable to expect him to pay $200 for less than five minutes work, and that if and when he received a reasonable bill he would pay it. Father replied, reminding him of their previous conversation about the $1000, stating that while it had taken only five minutes to reduce the dislocation, it had taken thirty years to learn how to do it, that he considered $200 to be a reasonable charge in this case, that he would not reduce it and that if Mr. Williams did not feel that it was worth $200 for his son to be able to walk again he needn't pay anything. A couple of weeks later he received a letter from Mr. Williams enclosing a check for $200, expressing his gratitude and apologizing for his previous letter.
Another little incident relating in a way to the hospital and occurring some time later, may be of interest to you. In 1900, as I shall explain to you later, Father was realizing a life long ambition by attending a post graduate course at Johns Hopkins University Medical School. While there he became great friends with Dr. Thayer, one of the most famous of the Johns Hopkins professors. It was Dr. Thayer's practice to take a small group of selected postgraduate students with him occasionally on his visit through the wards of the famous Johns Hopkins Hospital, to have them examine the patients in turn and to discuss each case with them. On one of these occasions he had asked Father if he would like to accompany him and Father had been delighted to do so. In the course of their round they came to the bed of an elderly man who was unable to move some of his joints, which were swollen and painful. Thayer had the students examine the patient and make a diagnosis. After discussing this fully it was agreed that the patient had what in those days was known as articular rheumatism. Thayer then had each student state, in turn, what treatment he considered to be indicated. They advanced various ideas, none of which seemed to satisfy Thayer. Finally he turned to Father and asked him if he would care to express an opinion in the matter. Father replied that he would proceed on the basis that the trouble was attributable to some focus of infection somewhere in the body, and that he would first endeavor to remove this source of infection. Thayer looked at him with surprise and said: "Doctor, you astonish me. I have in my desk a paper that is to be published soon in which I advise that same thing. Until you spoke I believed that I was the first person in the country to do so. Would you mind telling us how and when you arrived at your conclusions?" Father replied to this effect: "I am Chief of Staff at the Hospital in Ft. Smith. About a year ago the Head Nurse came to me one morning and said that she was worried about an old lady in the Charity ward who had so severe a case of articular rheumatism that she couldn't move in bed, that she had gradually grown weaker and weaker, was now covered with bed sores, and was about to die. She asked me if I would please come and look at her. When I had an opportunity I went, with her, into the ward to examine the patient. I sat down on the bed and began to examine her. In doing so I leaned over her face and I was almost nauseated by the odor of decomposition that came from her mouth. I told her to open her mouth. I could see that she wore an upper and a lower plate, in filthy condition, and that the mouth was badly ulcerated. I told the nurse to remove the plates. The old lady shouted that
she would not allow anyone to remove them, that if she did remove them they wouldn't fit afterwards, and that she hadn't removed them for ten years. I forcibly removed them, told the nurse to clean them and the mouth thoroughly, to keep the plates removed and to treat the mouth until it was thoroughly clean and healed up and then to report to me. When I examined the patient about ten days later I found her to be considerably improved. I prescribed a simple tonic and kept her under observation. She continued to improve rapidly and in about two weeks she was able to walk out of the hospital.
In endeavoring to arrive at a conclusion as to the cause of her rapid recovery under practically no medication, I could not attach special significance to any particular circumstances except the badly infected mouth. Since the elimination of this infection had apparently at least contributed to the recovery, I decided in future similar cases to try and find any possible focus of infection in the body, such as an infected tooth, tonsil, kidney etc. and to remove or eliminate it if possible. I found that this generally proved to be effective. This will explain, I hope, why I made the suggestion I did." Thayer turned to the group of students and said "I hope each of you will remember this incident as long as you live. I couldn't, in a dozen lectures, have given you as convincing a demonstration of the importance of a doctor's being able to observe details, analyze them and make sound conclusions from them. I know of nothing that is more important to his success." When Father told me of this incident some years later, it was with what I consider to be a quite justifiable bit of pride.
Throughout his life he was a great lover of horses, of which he was an excellent judge, rider, and driver. In my boyhood there were no automobiles, and for many years he drove a pair of strikingly handsome bays and it was one of his greatest satisfactions to have people stop and look at them as he drove by and to be able to pass any other team on the road. When automobiles had become fairly common he was induced to buy one. The first time he attempted to back it out of the barn he backed it through the wall of the barn across the alley. He never got in it again, but relied upon his horse and buggy as long as he continued in active practice.
Having been born and raised on a farm, it was quite natural that it should have been his life long ambition to be able, when the time came, to retire on a farm, where he could spend his remaining years in raising fine hogs and stock and crops of potatoes, corn, vegetables and long staple cotton. About 1901 he bought a run down farm of about 200 acres, about six miles from town, and, for the next ten or more years, he put all his life savings (about $15000) into fencing his land, building a barn (the largest in the county) and otherwise developing the farm. At one time he could probably have sold it for $25000, but he could not convince himself of the wisdom of doing so. In this he was doubtless influenced by the fact that he had begun to develop a heart condition that would probably necessitate his retiring from active practice before long. By about 1920 he and mother moved out to the farm (having sold the home at 216 N. 7th Street). Fortunately, he was able to spend the remaining three or four years of his life there, happily surrounded by his chickens, his horses and his cows, fully occupied with the multitudinous details of running a farm.
In the summer of 1924 his condition became so serious that my mother sent for my brother Drew to come home (I was in Panama). Father had made it a practice not to perform major serious operations, except where unavoidable in an emergency, but, whenever this was practicable, to build the patient up to a good physical condition and then take him to either the Mayo Brothers or to Johns Hopkins for such an operation, and, realizing his condition, he agreed to go to the Mayos for treatment. Upon careful examination, the attending physician advised Drew that the condition of his heart was such that they could do nothing and they recommended that Drew get him home as soon as possible.
While on the train, in conversation with Drew, he suddenly slumped in his seat, unconscious, and died in a few minutes. He was buried in the Forest Park Cemetery in Fort Smith.
He was a man of simple and straightforward integrity; outspoken in his convictions and intolerant of cant, hypocrisy or injustice in any form; of many firm and loyal friends; of simple tastes and habits; a strict but fair disciplinarian; a life long student; a useful and respected member of his profession and of his community. His greatest ambition in life was that he might be able to prepare his three sons for happy, useful and honorable lives. The memory and example of his character was the most lasting and the most valuable legacy he could have left them.
I have tried to recall for you a few of the things I remember about him in the hope that you may feel that you know something about what kind of man he was.
I was stationed in Panama at the time of Father's death.
In view of the isolated location of the farm, to the total lack of modern conveniences and to the difficulties involved in her attempting to run the farm alone, my brothers and I decided that mother should not continue to live on the farm. So everything on the place, except Father's medical library (one of the best in the state) was sold or given away, and mother went to live with my brother Dan in St. Helena, California. Father's books and papers were shipped there and stored in a barn on Dan's place. Sometime later the barn burned down and all the books and papers, including the old family Bible -- which was the only record we had of our
During the remainder of her life mother lived with either Dan, Drew or me. She died October 28, 1936, at Seattle, Washington, following an operation for gall stones. Drew and I went back to Ft. Smith to bury her ashes besides father.
Her entire life was devoted to her husband and her three sons. She had practically no other interests. She did without things all her life in order that we might have the things we needed. For her a new dress or a new hat was a rare occurrence and it was not replaced for years. I do not recall ever hearing her say an unkind word about any one. I recall but two occasions when she and father felt they could afford a pleasure trip away from home. One of these was to attend the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and the other was when, with a party of friends, they went to Corpus Christi, Texas to enjoy a stay of several days on the Gulf coast. On this occasion a storm of such unprecedented severity occurred that they were unable to leave the Pullman car during their stay. She was a life time member of the Baptist church, and we boys regularly attended Sunday school. Generally we brought home one of our friends for Sunday dinner, which was quite an occasion as we boys froze the ice cream to go with the cake that mother had made for us.
During the years of her life that she spent with one or the other of us after father's death we tried to make it possible for her to be able to enjoy a well earned rest. Army life was something entirely new to her and we were happy that she derived much pleasure from the opportunity that it afforded her of seeing new places and meeting new people.
Her simple and unaffected manner, her cheerfulness, her genuine interest in things and in people, and her thoughtfulness and consideration for others made her many friends.
Her influence, by precept and example, is one of my most cherished memories.