The J.W. Eckford Memorial Clinic and Hospital
Dr. Feddy Eckford announced construction of the J. W. Memorial Hospital located at 6 Washington Street in 1946 in memory of his father, Dr. Jim Eckford, whose death was the same year. It was the first air-conditioned hospital in the county and one of the first in the state. The building was designed by Harry Stevens of West Point and cost $100,000. It was the very latest in design and featured glass brick non-glare windows and modernistic architectural lines. Originally, it had nine private rooms, one ward accommodating three, and a black ward and a private room. The hospital had an X-ray room, operating room, delivery room, and was equipped throughout with the latest medical equipment. The Health Department required an ultra violet light in each room to kill germs that might come from the new air conditioning system. The hospital utilized what was known as a “walking blood bank.” They requested citizens who were willing to donate blood to come and have their blood tested to see what type it was. A card file was kept with the person’s name, address, phone number and blood type. When a patient needed blood, they would call a person with the same type blood to come donate their blood.
Dr. Feddy did not enjoy the business part of the Clinic so he sold it to Dr. Kermit Laird who continued operating under the same name. The Clinic on Washington Street closed in 1978 at which time Dr. Kermit Laird opened The Laird Clinic in Doctors Park on Hospital Road where Dr. Feddy was affiliated until his retirement in 1985
Dr. J. W. “Jim” Eckford began his practice of medicine in Oktibbeha County in 1896 after receiving his medical degree from Tulane during the horse and buggy days. Thousands of times, in the middle of the night he went miles in the country, through all types of weather to relieve the suffering of some human when he knew that he would never receive a cent for his services. No person high or low, black or white could say that he turned him away for lack of money, or because of the time of day or night.
Dr. Jim delivered enough babies in his 47 years to populate a city the size of Starkville and he had more of them named after him than any other man in the State. This attests the love and esteem in which his patients held him.
He had a busy and fruitful life being a leader in church and civic affairs. The newspaper of 1946 stated, “Although entitled to the endearments of ‘The Country Doctor,’ his skill as a physician matched that of the modern doctors who may have earned for themselves accolades of success in broader fields. His amazing understanding of human nature and the application of psychology to the practice of medicine was an accomplishment peculiar to the talents and personality of the man who exercised a benign and lasting influence for good upon all with whom he came in contact.”
Dr. Jim’s native sense of humor made him a good conversationalist. He loved fishing and oftentimes fished with his patients. He was welcomed in more Oktibbeha County homes than any other man who has carved out his career among the people in this section. He was for about a half century a central figure in combating the numerous epidemics, which came to this section. People still remember the tragic influenza epidemic of 1918 when a heavy toll of lives was taken from the complement of soldiers at the College and from the county’s populace.
Dr. John Featherston “Feddy” Eckford joined his father Dr. James W. (Jim) in his medical practice in 1927 and followed in his footsteps, meeting the medical needs of people as well as devoting effort to civic responsibilities. He had a distinct stern voice compared to the soft kind gentle voice of his dad, but in all his other ways he was so much like him. He was a mischievous child who tied frogs to doorknobs, hypnotized his brother, Jim Boy, and the man that looked after his father’s horses, and stretched them across a ditch to walk across them. He married Nellie Korumpf Holmes and has two children, Nellie Kay Eckford and Adele Featherston Eckford Smith. He was graduated from Tulane Medical School in 1926. He delivered more than 5,000 babies (half of our population at one time). He attributed any success he had with the hospital or his practice to the loving support of his family and the people he served. Former hospital employees remember him as the first doctor to make his patient rounds in the morning and the last doctor leaving the hospital at night. When I recorded his life story, he took a nap every day at 1 pm sitting in a chair. He had trained himself to totally relax for 30 minutes which he said was equivalent to hours of sleep and that was how he could keep the long hard hours of taking care of his patients. His life’s stories related to family, service, recreation, birth, death and recovery and told as only Dr. Feddy could do dressed in his handsome suit and bowtie. He had even made an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.
Dr. Feddy was so loved that everyone in the county has a “Dr. Feddy “ story to tell or has heard one to tell. The Dr. Feddy stories continue to touch the heartstrings of everyone. Even today, you will still hear people say, “Dr. Feddy delivered me, or took out my tonsils, etc. A lady came in the museum not long ago and said, “I wouldn’t be alive today if it were not for Dr. Feddy…he knew what to do to save my life!” The Dr. Feddy stories contain such emotion and love from the person telling them that you can sense the truth and gratitude in them. Walking with him around his lawn once, he stopped at the stonewall around his rose garden and said, “one patient gave me the stone as payment and another laid them for his payment.” He was an avid golfer, loved MSU athletics, fine restaurants and dancing. A large bronze plaque hangs on the left in the foyer of the Oktibbeha County Regional Hospital that reads, “In appreciation of these two dedicated physicians for their untiring efforts, skills, and over 100 years of faithful service to the medical profession.”
It would be difficult to write about the Eckford doctors without mentioning Bessie. Bessie Love Wynn was the nurse to both Dr. Eckfords. She made house calls with them and sometimes was left to nurse the sick for days. She was introduced to nursing in 1929 when she brought her badly burned baby into the clinic for treatment. She fell in love with nursing, she stayed on at the clinic to learn the duties of a nurse’s aide, studied a midwife’s manual and qualified to deliver babies; and in 1952 she became a licensed practical nurse.
After Dr. Jim’s death, she stayed on at the clinic to work with his son, Dr. Feddy. Bessie was known as Mama Bessie by many persons throughout this area and has really been a blessing sent by God to all that knew her.
The old yellow brick building with its glass brick windows is gone forever but parts of the building remain. The Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum erected a small Medical Exhibit that showcases the original door to Dr, Eckford’s private office. The writing on the glass portion of the door reads, “Private, Dr. Eckford, Office Hours 9 to 12 am – 3 to 5 p.m., Appointments 2 to 3 p.m. except on Saturday and Sunday.”
The double doors leading into the hospital part of the clinic reads, “Visiting Hours 9 to 12 a.m. – 2 to 4 p.m., Hospital is Air-conditioned, No visitors under 12 yrs. of age, Please Observe 7 to 9 p.m., No visitors with coughs or colds allowed.” Many medical artifacts are contained in this exhibit such as medical bags, medical cabinets, surgical tools, homemade incubator, prescription bottles and others. Visit the museum for a step back in time; you will be glad you did.
Mrs. Marilyn Laird (wife of Dr. Kermit Laird) Remembers.
The Eckford Clinic was a very busy place. Times were different then because there were no specialists here such as cardiologists, orthopedists, pediatricians, etc. so the doctors at that time did the best they could with the training and equipment they had. Most often the doctors were at the clinic from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night taking care of patients. She remembered the strong bond between the doctors and their patients – patients were like part of the family. Dr. Feddy was a mentor to Dr. Laird.
Sonny Kelly Remembers
Dr. Feddy was still practicing medicine when I came to Oktibbeha County Hospital 35 years ago. I remember him as a charismatic, animated individual who was liked and highly thought of by his patients, other physicians on staff, and particularly the hospital employees who took care of his patients. He delivered enough babies in Oktibbeha County to populate a fair sized town.
Helen Evans Remembers
Mrs. Evans, the wife of Maurice Evans, deceased owner of Geo. Evans Shine Shop, worked in the clinic for 18 years. She remembers that they worked hard but enjoyed every minute. Some days they worked 10 hours depending on the situation at the hospital at closing. She remembers Dr. Feddy being so compassionate that he would save samples of medicine to give patients who could not afford it. While she was there, the doctors were Dr. John T. Copeland, Dr. Kermit Laird, Dr. D. C. Strange and Dr. J. F. “Feddy” Eckford.
Mary Frances Eckford Lolley Remembers
My Granddaddy, Dr. Jim, was one of the kindest, most gentle men I have ever known. I was six months old when my grandmother Eckford died and my daddy, mother, and I went to live with Granddaddy in his home for several years. I was eleven years old when he died but I remember him very well. He found out in 1923 that he had diabetes and wrote a beautiful letter to my grandmother thinking he might not live much longer. Fortunately, insulin therapy was discovered that year and he gave himself insulin shots for the rest of his life. In this letter to my grandmother, he told her of his great love for her and for the children and gave her advice about financial matters. One bit of advice was,” Never lend anything to anyone who is kin to you or to me.” As generous as he was, I am sure he would have made the loans but did not think it advisable for her to do so. At the end of the letter he wrote, “I have no fears as to the future. I gave my heart to God when about 18 years of age and I have not had any doubt since.” He was a faithful member of the First Methodist Church here and was chairman of the Board of Trustees when the present sanctuary was built. He was always in his place at the church at eleven o’clock on Sunday mornings unless he had an emergency. Each one of the six children took turns staying at home on Sundays to answer the phone in case of an emergency.
Granddaddy graduated from Tulane Medical School in 1895 and opened his practice in Starkville in 1896. He and my grandmother, Mary Rice, were married in December 1896. Grandmother Mary assisted him in caring for patients. They had a large two- story home on South Washington St. and many times very sick patients would stay with them until they were well enough to return to their homes. She also kept his medical records and took care of small emergencies when he was out on a call. She did all this while raising their own six children. My daddy, J.W. Eckford, Jr, said he remembered that Granddaddy took out someone’s tonsils on the dining room table and they had supper on that table the same night.
At the time of his death in 1946, Dr. Jim still had a mortgage on his home as he rarely, if ever, sent out a statement for his services. He never failed to see every patient who came to see him each day. Much of his pay was in chickens, beef; pork, vegetables, homemade pies, preserves, etc. that patients continually brought to his home as payment in gratitude for his services. People knew he loved to fish and though he didn’t get to go as much as he would have wished, it is said that people saw to it that his minnow vat was never empty and he had a standing invitation to fish in any pond in the county. His firewood pile never ran low either.
He had one of the first (if not the first) car in the county and he would often pick up children who were playing in their front yards and take them for a ride around the block.
He was truly a remarkable man and it was fitting that Uncle Feddy named the hospital in his memory. My earliest memory of the hospital (we always called it the clinic) is having my tonsils removed there when I was twelve.
Later in my teens, I would go there and have lunch during the school year with my Aunt Fannie Delle and her husband, Sid. Fannie Delle was Uncle Feddy’s older sister. She was his receptionist and bookkeeper from about 1945 until her death in 1966. Her husband, L. S Lundy, was the hospital administrator until his death in 1958. Mary Estelle Winston, a first cousin, was the hospital dietician and served wonderful meals, which we enjoyed, in the linen closet since there was no dining area.
In 1958, when our first child was born, my husband was just out of the army so we had no medical insurance. I stayed in the clinic (hospital) in a private room for eight days and our total bill was $99.00.The room was $10.00 a day and there was a small nursery fee. Uncle Feddy waived the $50.00 delivery fee since we were family. Several elderly or terminally ill patients who were not able to take care of themselves stayed there for months or even years at a time.
I am sure people have wondered through the years where Uncle Feddy got his unusual name. Granddaddy’s father, who was also named James William, died in September before Granddaddy was born in December. When young Jim was four, his mother married Dr. John Featherston. There were no children born to this union so Dr. Featherston raised Jim as though he were his own son. He was most probably the reason Granddaddy went to medical school. Then when Granddaddy’s first son was born, he named him John Featherston after the only father he had ever known. Since John Featherston was a heavy load for a little boy, everyone called him Feddy and the nickname stuck. Eight years later when my dad, the second son, was born, he was given the name, James William, since that name had been in the Eckford family for several generations.
I cannot close this without naming so many who assisted Dr. Jim and/or Uncle Feddie so ably: Frances, Bessie, Mary Louise, Leila, Louise, Helen, Juliaphene, Nancy, Fred and there were many others whose skilled and loving care helped make J. W. Eckford Memorial Hospital the wonderfully caring place that it was.
I have a favorite Dr. Feddy story: He was just out of medical school and had come home to join Dr. Jim in his medical practice. One of the local doctors had to go out of town and asked Uncle Feddy to take his house calls. A call came in from out in the county and Uncle Feddy grabbed his new medical bag and traveled far out into the country until the road ended. A young boy with a horse was standing beside the road. Uncle Feddy asked for directions to Mrs.-----’s house. The boy answered, “There’s no road, you’ll have to go on the horse.” The young doctor got up onto the horse and slid forward so the boy could get on back. The boy said, “I’m going to stay here with the car.” Uncle Feddy said, “I don’t know the way to the house”. The boy said, “The horse does.” So the young doctor rode through the woods and sure enough the horse stopped right at the house. Uncle Feddy went into the house calling the woman’s name and then followed her feeble voice into the room. When she saw he was not her doctor, she said, “Who are you?” He told her who he was and why he was there and she said, “ I want Dr.-----.” He answered, “ Mrs.-----, I’ve gone through a lot to get here and I’m not leaving until I have taken care of you.” And he did. The horse took him back through the woods to his car. There was a problem, however. The boy had tried to turn the car around and had backed off into a rather deep ditch. It took the boy, the new young doctor, and the horse to get it out.