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Mack Williams: Remembering a doctor and a gentleman

Everybody mentally toys with the idea of time travel. With no time machine yet, the mind is the only place feasible. We travel time in dreams, where departed relatives and loved ones seem so alive that, upon our waking, it’s hard to return to the present, and the loss.

The future is complete mystery; we know no one there, any descendants “removed” in time and DNA, becoming cousins to the “nth-degree.”

That leaves the past, “comfortable as an old shoe” (sadly so, even with wars of death and destruction).

Some think only of their own ancestors, while those not into genealogy think about famous and infamous “non-relatives” who were leaders, statesmen, composers, artists, etc.

We sometimes meet a person who so much fits an earlier mold that we get sort of an idea of how it might have been to have met the original.

So it naturally follows, I have had the great honor to have been acquainted with both George Washington and Robert E. Lee in the person of the late Dr. Frank B. Marsh.

In both history and legend, both were called “true gentlemen,” with so many accounts of their “gentlemanliness” being public record; but I will mainly deal with the good doctor (excellent diagnostician and caring soul), once on Salisbury’s Barker Street.

Washington’s concern for his soldiers (especially at Valley Forge) and Lee’s concern for his troops (which also extended to Union wounded) would have been replicated by Dr. Marsh had he been there, not just in his role as physician, but as “human being.”

Dr. Marsh’s height and lithe build seemed to match the picture of a “gentleman” from another day (not saying there weren’t then, nor now, “fat gentlemen”).

Dr. Marsh believed in being fit, and looked it, and to the best of my memory, lived into his nineties. He said it was better to be “a little on the underside” of prescribed weight, making me think he may have been an early “calorie reducer.”

Stories were told at Rowan Memorial (now Novant) of Dr. Marsh striding (flying) down hospital corridors, nurses in tow (or rather, breathlessly trying to remain “in tow”).  George Washington and Robert E. Lee were both “men of action” as well.

Dr. Marsh made house calls, mostly unheard of today. My brother Joe went to the beach with some friends following high school graduation. (Joe will tell you he is Granite Quarry High School’s very last graduate. Don’t forget the “W.”) On that trip, Joe experienced a most severe sunburn. I can still picture that Old Concord Road house call by Dr. Marsh (and my brother’s redness).

Dr. Marsh was very patient with me when I was around 9, being his patient for a week at Rowan Memorial (“Novant” reminds me of an exploding star, but I guess Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” has shaped us all). I cried when he said I had to stay a couple more days following my bout with viral high fever; but with caring and supportive voice, he assured me the time would pass quickly.

During an office visit, around age 12, Dr. Marsh said he was going to give me a shot of antibiotic for one of those “upper-respiratory-sinus, lower-respiratory-throat-and-chest things which all Williamses (“our” Williamses) are prone to.” The lengthy phrase within the quotation marks was not his, but mine, used by me to refer to the “family malady” (gosh, put this way, we sound like the “Ushers”).

My tearing-up and moaning was met with Dr. Marsh’s admonishment: “Be a man!” This was done sternly, not hatefully, in a manner which both Washington and Lee would have used with their troops.

I still remember the sight of Dr. Marsh’s home when my father and I would go by the Salisbury City Lake. It lay then (as now) on a gentle rise, with stately columns (thin like Dr. Marsh, not Doric like Arlington), surrounded by stately trees, a home befitting a gentleman.

I never met George Washington or Robert E. Lee, but for many years our family was tended to by a physician cut from similar cloth.

Long before I looked up to him, I feel certain he looked up to them.

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