Early Settlers of Union
Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
Newton Berry, Mountain Doctor
"If the hat
fits, wear it!" might well have been the advice to young medical
student Claude Hemphill III from
his grandmother, Mrs. Stella Berry Hemphill, as she gave her grandson
the black Stetson hat that belonged to his great grandfather, Dr.
Thomas Newton Berry, when the younger man entered Emory University
School of Medicine in 1986.
It is unlikely
that Dr. Claude Hemphill III ever
wore the old black Stetson, but it became a beloved symbol to him of
the legacy left to him from his ancestor, Dr. Thomas Newton Berry. The
younger doctor wrote about the old hat, and told about how it reminded
him of his grandfather's service and compassion as a country doctor in Union County
following the turn of the twentieth century. The essay by Hemphill won
second place in the Emory University School of Medicine's 1990 Class. A
copy came into my hands, and I began some avid research to seek to find
out more about this doctor of the mountains and how he inspired a
grandson to follow in his footsteps in medical studies and practice.
Who was Dr. Berry, and
what was his life like as a country doctor?
Berry (01/31/1870 -
12/11/1927) was the oldest of six children born to John Johnson Berry
(1846- 10/12/1921) and Caroline Swim (Swaim,
(1848- 03/08/1923). This family lived in the Shady Grove section of Union County.
Thomas Newton's father, John Johnson, was a son of early Union County
settlers Elias Berry (1812-1885) and Sarah Johnson Berry
(1814-1901). Thomas Newton's mother, Caroline, was a daughter of Enoch
and Cynthia Griffis Swim (Swaim, Swain).
Newton, their firstborn, John Johnson and Caroline Swain Berry had five
other children: William Jefferson Berry who married Ila Jane Frady;
Martha Lee Berry who married Festus Nelson; James Franklin Berry who
married Nora Rich; Mary J. Berry who married Herschell
Fields; and Sarah Alice Berry who married Sherman Brown.
Berry may have been named for relatives, so far as this writer knows.
But his father may also have read about the famed English
archaeologist, Thomas Newton (1816-1864), who played an important part
in discovering one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the
mausoleum of Halicarnassus. At
any rate, Thomas Newton Berry early-on demonstrated an alert mind and a
love for knowledge, much like the English scientist for whom he could
have been named.
Berry married Ora L. Reece, a
granddaughter of Solomon Rich, Sr. by his daughter, Elizabeth Rich
Reece (her husband's name currently unresearched).
Newton and Ora were born five children:
Bessie W. Berry (1894) who married Carl Rector; Fernando A. (called "Ferd", 1890) who married Myrtle Coker; Eula M.
(1900) who married a McCall; Stella (1907) who married Claude Hemphill;
and Christina (1904-1905).
Berry enrolled in the Atlanta College of Physicians and Surgeons (this
later grew into Emory University School of Medicine). He graduated in
1902. He returned to Blairsville to set up his general practice in
medicine and served citizens from 1902 through 1927 when he contracted
a form of cancer and could no longer continue his practice.
looked smart in his black Stetson hat, his trademark, to distinguish
him from other citizens who wore maybe coonskin caps or "rusher"
(straw) hats. Dr. Berry rode
astride a stately jet-black horse throughout the mountains to visit his
patients. He was there for delivery of babies at $10 per birth. He
treated all manner of disease, farm accidents, diphtheria, other
contagious diseases, pneumonia. If the farmers had no money to pay the
doctor, they would give him corn and grain to feed his horse, live
chickens to bear back to Mrs. Ora,
potatoes, apples, chestnuts in lieu of
money. If they had none of these with which to pay, their bill was
In 1917 when
the plague of influenza was rampant, he made house calls with his
medical bag, saddle bag and pockets full of medicines he had secured
from a pharmacy in Atlanta.
Even his most valiant efforts in combating the spread of the disease
saw many people, young and old alike, succumb to the disease.
Not only did he
make house calls, but patients came from outlying communities to see
the doctor in his office in town. Oftentimes, Dr. Berry and
his kindly wife, Ora, would give the
patient a bed and board for the night at no extra charge, where they
could more fully nurse them back to health.
Newton Berry died December 11, 1927 and
was buried in the New Blairsville Cemetery. His
beloved wife, Ora Reece Berry,
died four months later on April 16, 1928. The
legacy is rich in good deeds and rich memories
Hemphill told her grandson, Claude Hemphill III, in
1986 when she gave him his grandfather's hat (according to the
prize-winning essay): " I hope you
appreciate it (the hat) and keep it in a special place."
Hemphill wrote of this legacy, and his own "calling"—like that of his
grandfather to be a doctor—"I hope (as I start my medical education) to
be able to use technological and scientific understanding to improve
the treatment of many medical problems. I hope that I can make
contributions in research, both basic science and clinical. Yet, I feel
that all these things must be tempered with honesty and compassion in
the treatment of patients. My great grandfather's hat doesn't fit too
well now. As I go along, I plan to break it in and hope it will fit a
little better as each year goes by."
c2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 28, 2008 in The Union
Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights
Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.
She may be reached at e-mail email@example.com;
phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708
Updated September 8, 2008
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