(April 20, 2017) The Julia A. Purnell Museum’s new exhibit, “Community Medicine: The Art and Science of Healing,” which honors longtime town physician Dr. Robert LaMar, had a well-attended opening reception on April 7 during the First Friday Art Stroll in Snow Hill.
Dr. Cynthia Byrd, Purnell Museum executive director, said about 50 people were on hand for the opening, most of whom had first hand dealings with LaMar.
“So many people from his life came and I was so glad they were still around,” she said.
In addition to LaMar’s son and daughter-in-law, Philip and Suzanne LaMar, Byrd said two former nurses, along with the physician who took over his practice and numerous patients were on hand to remember the man who served as Snow Hill’s town doctor for almost 60 years.
“He was the last general family doctor who was certified to deliver babies at Peninsula Regional Medical Center,” she said. “That was back when a general practitioner was general. He had to do everything … you didn’t have specialists.”
LaMar, who passed away in 2005, began practicing medicine in Snow Hill during the 1940’s, Byrd said. During the opening night reception his son Philip shared the poignant memory of his father’s last day on the job.
“Somebody came and needed a prescription renewed [and] the doctor needed to sign off,” Byrd said. “Dr. Lamar was sitting there, with his pen and his pad, and he just could not seem to remember exactly what it was this patient needed. His wife [Freda] took the pen from him and said ‘I’m sorry, he can’t do this.’”
Byrd said the couple realized the end had arrived.
“That day was his very last day in the office,” Byrd said. “He was upset because he wasn’t feeling confident that he remembered the right thing to write. He and she both said it was time.”
The heartfelt recollection elicited tears from many at the reception, including LaMar’s family, cohorts and patients, Byrd said.
“He was here so long there were multiple generations of families that he delivered,” she said.
Judging by the memories shared, Byrd said LaMar had a well-developed sense of humor and cared immensely about his patients.
“You didn’t know if he was funny, grumpy or just teasing you,” she said. “People described him in a way that you got the sense he was just a character.”
With his residence located next door to his office at 104 North Bay St., Philip LaMar recalled his father would often field phone calls during dinner and dash off to assist a patient.
“It wasn’t like they went to the emergency room, they would bring them to his office,” Byrd said.
The Community Medicine exhibit features medical equipment and furniture used by LaMar, along with items from his predecessor, Dr. John Riley. Byrd also noted there were antique medical ledgers on display from Dr. Ezekiel Haynie, who practiced medicine in Snow Hill from 1785 to 1798.
“It kind of gives this huge overview of everything the doctors were doing at the time,” she said.
The Community Medicine exhibit will remain on display until Oct. 31, at which point Byrd said the museum would switch up offerings for the Christmas holiday.
The museum is open year round from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and from 1-4 p.m. on Sundays. Adult admission is $3. Child admission is free.
Yearly memberships are $15 for individuals or $25 for families.
“We do tours for groups and kids,” Byrd said. “If people need a special time for a big group, or they want a special introduction or talk about the exhibit, just call and let me know.”
Byrd also noted the museum has a free day for Snow Hill residents one weekend every month.
“If they’re a Snow Hill resident a little bit of their taxes every year come to help us,” she said. “According to my philosophy all these items belong to the town … so people should have some opportunity to come in and see them without having to pay.”