Clover doctor remembered for five decades of service

news@enquirerherald.comApril 24, 2013 

— Dr. Ernest A. Perry visited hospitalized patients in York, Rock Hill and Gastonia, N.C., daily as he tended his Clover family medical practice for nearly 50 years.

Many years, he wore out a car making house calls, and a cake or a ham often served as payment. He treated the sick or injured who showed up on the family doorstep. And he delivered babies day and night.

“It was a 24/7 job,” said Mary Perry Clark of Atlanta, the eldest of Perry’s three daughters. “It was Christmas mornings, it was birthdays, Sundays, weekends, and of course people came to our door.

“We missed him when he wasn’t there,” Clark said of her father, who died in his sleep at home earlier this month at 95. “But we always had the feeling that we were involved in something larger than ourselves. We accepted that.”

Perry, a native of Bethlehem, Ga., came to Clover to practice family medicine in 1946, after graduating from the University of Georgia in 1938 and the Medical College of Georgia in 1943. His wife, Margaret, who died in 1995, had grown up in York.

“The community needed another doctor, and they made a wonderful case, so I think he chose to locate here,” said Clark’s husband, Cully Clark. “He was a bright, young energetic doctor, so they chose him.”

Before coming to Clover, Perry served as a captain and medical officer in the U.S. Army, primarily on the West Coast, where he treated patients with post traumatic stress disorder.

During his Army service, Perry also was among the first doctors to have the chance to prescribe a revolutionary new antibiotic called penicillin, said David Sifford, a close family friend.

Local achievements

Perry delivered more than 2,600 babies in York and Gaston counties between 1946 and 1992, when he retired, according to Sifford. Each year, family members said, he tended about 150 obstetric patients.

“He delivered hundreds of people in hospitals and at home,” said Mary Clark. “When I was growing up, he always carried a delivery bag in the back seat of his car. And many people in this county and in Gaston County are named after him – either Ernest or Arch or Perry.”

Clover resident Evelyn McCarter, 89, said Perry delivered all three of her children, one of whom died soon after birth. “Everybody knew what a brilliant doctor he was,” she said. “He would tell you what he thought it was, and as far as I’m concerned, he was always right.”

Mary Clark said her father treated people regardless of their ability to pay. “We would get hams and cakes on a regular basis,” she said. “This was before Medicare, Medicaid, and people didn’t have money. He frequently did not take payment or took it on the basis that the person could pay.”

Cully Clark said during the years of segregation, Perry was the first doctor in Clover to have a waiting room for African-American patients. “At the time, there was no waiting room for black patients in Clover,” he said. “He saw to it that they had a place to come and wait, rather than being on the streets before they were attended to.”

Sifford said Perry’s fees in the early days were nominal compared to today’s medical costs. “An office call was $2,” said Sifford, who lives in Clover. “If he went to your house, which he did, that was $5. If you had a baby, from conception to delivery, it was $50.”

Sifford, who was co-captain of the 1961 Blue Eagle football team, said Perry also was a big believer in community service. He supported the launch of a high school band program, sponsored the yearbook with a large paid ad and treated the football team without compensation.

“Before the game, he would tape ankles or wrists,” Sifford said. “At halftime, he would come and sew you up because football uniforms at that time were fairly primitive. Then he would go and do the same thing for the visiting team, because they would not have a doctor.”

Perry, who was affectionately known as “Doc,” was twice named Man of the Year by the Clover community. The Church Street building where he practiced in later years was named after him in 1993.

A man of many interests

Although Perry was dedicated to his medical practice, his intellectual pursuits were varied. He played classical music at home, and he and Margaret enjoyed attending concerts and plays.

“Both of them were very intelligent. They loved to read, they loved music,” Mary Clark said. “When we were young, they’d go to New York every year and go to plays and concerts.”

Cully Clark said Perry was an avid reader who enjoyed exploring Shakespeare and topics such as world religions. He tended a lush garden filled with azaleas, camellias and other plantings, and he enjoyed fishing on Lake Wylie, where he had a cabin with a dock.

“He loved working in his yard, to the very end,” Cully Clark said. “He never, ever was without doing a lot of work. He was always just heavily engaged in pursuits, always occupied.”

Perry was born April 1, 1918, in Bethlehem, Ga., the second of four children of Ernest Stephens and Ruth Sims Perry. He is survived by three daughters, Mary Clark (Culpepper), Stone Mountain, Ga., Kathryn Strohl, Clover, Elizabeth DuBose (Ken), Camden; five grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

Memorials may be made to Clover Rescue Squad, American Cancer Society or National Multiple Sclerosis Society. M. L. Ford & Sons of Clover is serving the family. Online condolences may be sent to the family at www.mlfordsons.com.

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