VISITING WITH THE ‘GREAT PHYSICIAN’ Dr. Temple dies at 94 following 62 years of medical apply and wonderful tales |
Most knew of Dr. James Temple’s love for caring for people and Auburn football.
Many knew of Temple’s faith, not only through his church Alexander City Methodist Church, but through conversations with him as he practiced medicine.
Temple died peacefully at his Dadeville home Tuesday surrounded by the family that’s been everywhere with him — ballgames, shopping, medical conferences, housecalls and the emergency room.
“He’s not practicing medicine anymore,” Temple’s daughter Linda Brewer said. “He’s in heaven where everybody is healed. But God has something else planned for him to do. He loved people and loved to share stories about his adventures.”
Temple was the oldest practicing doctor and pharmacist in Alabama. He was a pharmacist beginning in 1950 and a medical doctor beginning in 1960. Temple saw his last patients in private practice just eight months ago.
“He was a dedicated physician and so many depended on him,” Dr. Vic Hamilton said. “He worked very hard, had an unbelievable work ethic. He was a nice, kind, gentle man. He saw a tremendous amount of patients. He was there for them. He spent hours and hours in his clinic.”
Temple saw patients in and around Russell Medical. Russell Medical CEO Jim Peace said
Temple was given elite status at the hospital even prior to Peace arriving in Alexander City.
“He was on the medical staff for years before I got there,” Peace said. “He went to emeritus staff membership. He served his years and was respected by his peers. He was honored with the lifetime medical membership.”
But few knew Temple had a guardian angel looking out for him and likely saved him from many situations providing fodder for his storytelling in heaven.
“There are so many times he told us about getting in a jam about something and how he got out of it,” Brewer said. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I can not think of how many stories he has told and think about how much his guardian angel has really protected him.”
Temple’s angel carried him through childhood, the Army, pharmacy school, medical school and life. The angel made a few appearances in Temple’s life to make sure he took care of Alexander City and Tallapoosa County residents for more than six decades.
The guardian angel’s first appearance is likely when Temple was young in Sylacauga.
“He was a sickly child,” Brewer said. “His grandmother would come in and sit by the fire and rock him — administer home remedies. After he got to be a teenager, he never got sick.”
By the time Temple was 12, he was already working in a drug store. It was there he discovered his love working with people — caring for them.
“Originally he wanted to be a doctor, but he came from a poor family and they had nine children,” Brewer said. “He would have to earn his way. He worked from a very young age. He thought well, ‘I will go to pharmacy school since I have been around that long enough. It will take care of my desire to help people and connect with medicine.’”
But there was a problem. Sylacauga was an Alabama town and the Temple family bled Crimson.
“Alabama didn’t have a pharmacy school,” Brewer said. “The closest one was Auburn.”
Again Temple’s guardian angel stepped in and got him to Auburn — a place he instantly fell in love with.
“He liked the small town, the niceness of the people,” Temple’s son James Temple said. “He loved everything about Auburn.”
It was 1960, some 10 years after he completed Auburn before Temple became an avid Auburn football fan using it as a way to get away from the medical practice for a brief time.
“The other vacation we got to go on is every weekend that Auburn played out of town,” James said. “As soon as we got through cheering or playing football we loaded up the van and went to wherever Auburn was playing. We drove all night long just to watch a game on Saturday and then drive back on Sunday.”
The guardian angel would help on those trips at times. The trips would also provide more stories for the family and Temple to tell. One trip to an away game found Temple leaving a game in the rain crashing into a lady’s freshly planted tulips and garden.
“Daddy said he got an earful from that woman,” Brewer said. “He said, ‘I thought she was fixing to call the police on us.’”
Brewer said her father was proud Alabama didn’t have a pharmacy school at the time.
“It forced him to go to Auburn and he fell in love with Auburn and became an avid Auburn fan,” Brewer said. “He said, ‘I would hate to know I spent the rest of my life being an Alabama fan.’”
Temple almost didn’t make it through pharmacy school at Auburn. It wasn’t because of lack of studying — it was the Army. Brewer said her father had checked with the draft board before going to Auburn — then Alabama Polytechnic Institute.
“He was drafted into the Army,” James said.
Temple would serve in the weather bureau in Tucson, Arizona.
“He was quick to say, ‘I was the worst soldier they ever put in there,’” James said.
Temple’s son said the yet to be pharmacist and doctor was mad the Army interrupted his pharmacy school that he would skip out on duties after morning roll call.
“He didn’t hang around for orders,” James said. “He would go back to the barracks and change into his khakis and went to town every morning.”
On one of those trips to town, Temple’s guardian angel saved him. He was being followed by a few locals who were up to no good. A police officer would give him a ride to town advising him those locals were about to jump Temple and that he shouldn’t travel alone as a soldier.
The angel would also help Temple get through the punishment of KP duty after he was caught wearing khakis to morning roll call.
“To save time he would just wear his khakis to roll call because he knew he was about to go to town,” James said.
Temple’s angel would save him from his Army sergeant.
“He was on the firing range and it got to storming,” James said. “Daddy is cold natured. He jumps up and gets in line to come in. When he gets in he realizes he has no rifle with him.”
Temple would visit with his sergeant — not a pleasant conversation as Temple was scared to death of his always grouchy mood. Temple would face the sergeant who told him to stand at the door as the rest of the squad came in from the firing range.
“The sergeant told daddy, ‘If somebody comes in with two rifles check the serial numbers and if it’s yours, get it, go clean it up and you’re OK. If it’s not, you deal with me,’” James said. “The last person off of the range had his rifle. He didn’t have to face the sergeant anymore.”
The young Temple returned to Auburn and got his pharmacy degree. He met his wife Fay Shepherd of Camp Hill at a ballgame in Sylacauga. Temple served as a pharmacist in Eclectic and Montgomery, he even served up prescriptions for Hank Williams.
But Temple still felt an urge to follow his original dream of becoming a doctor. Temple approached his wife Fay who was also working with an idea.
“He told momma, ‘I got to go to medical school,’” Brewer said. “She said, ‘If you promise me you are not going to want to start a family until after you finish, I will do whatever you want to do and go wherever you want to go to do that.’”
Temple started to take a few refresher courses at Huntingdon College. A semester shy of finishing a masters in math, an invitation to medical school in Birmingham came.
“He got it,” Brewer said. “They packed their bags and went to Birmingham when it was time to start the semester.”
Linda came late in Temple’s residency at Carraway Methodist Hospital. Fay reeled in Temple.
“The only place mother put her foot down was he wanted to go to Philadelphia for school to be a surgeon and specialize in surgery,” James said. “She said she wasn’t going to go. He never asked to go anywhere else.”
The family settled in Alexander City. James came into the family. Temple rented space on Church Street for his first clinic before building his first building on Highway 22 West. Fay stayed at home with the kids and helped keep the books for Temple’s practice at home until the mid 1990s. Some might consider Fay as Temple’s guardian angel as her raising the family allowed Temple more time to serve the people of the community.
“If it wasn’t for her, he couldn’t have done it,” Brewer said. “If she was a selfish type of woman and demanded more time at home he couldn’t do it, but she wasn’t that way. She supported him.”
It was Fay’s support that was the backbone of Temple’s medical service to the community.
“His family time was sacrificed a lot,” Brewer said. “He loved us. He provided well for us. He would get off at times to see [James] play football and me cheer in high school. It was our mom that took up the slack. The only time we went on vacation it was a medical conference for him. He always made a point to take us.”
Temple’s days started before his family would wake. He left for the office by 5 a.m. unless he had a call. Temple started with rounds at the hospital, then saw patients at the office, sometimes more than 100 in a day.
“It might be 6 or 7 at night before he got finished at the office,” James said. “He would go straight to the hospital and make rounds again. When he got through we would either eat at home or eat at the Horseshoe Bend Motel restaurant.”
But the family learned to eat quickly as they didn’t know when the next call from the hospital might come. The meals and time afterwards served as family time even though Temple was still working.
“When we were not school age, there would be many times it would be midnight or after before we would get back home,” Brewer said. “Mother would have us bathed and pajamas on. A lot of times we would just fall asleep — but we were with him.”
As Temple’s children got older, the frequent trips in the back seat to house calls changed, but Temple was still there for them.
“I can remember as I got older and he would call mother and say he was going to be late getting in, if I needed to ask him something, he always came in and kissed us goodbye in the morning before he left,” Brewer said. “I would leave him notes on my bedside table and ask him whatever I needed to ask him. He would write me a note back. We communicated with notes a lot.”
Family time came in other ways too.
“I used to go to the emergency room with him a lot,” James said. “Especially when someone had a broken bone or cut — oh, I would go. I would ask, ‘Whatcha got? If he was like ‘Oh a bellyache,’ I wasn’t going. If he said cuts, broken bone, automobile accident, I was the first one in the car ready to go. He would let me watch them suture or fix broken bones.”
Brewer said the three of them would often go to the hospital to see patients as their mother waited in the car in the parking lot.
Temple never turned down providing medical care to someone in need.
“Someone came in while he was suturing about to have a baby and he goes to help,” James said. “They say they didn’t have any money. Daddy said, ‘I don’t remember asking.’ He never looked up and just went right on going.”
Temple did some minor surgery — gallbladders, tonsils, hysterectomies and even a little orthopedic too.
“It’s the end of an era,” Peace said. “That type of physician and the kind of care he provided all those years just doesn’t exist anymore. He did surgery, delivered babies, he made house calls. He did all that, those are things you don’t see in today’s healthcare environment. It was before you really had specialists. Specialists at the time were really just in big metropolitan areas and there weren’t that many of them. There certainly weren’t any out in the rural areas.”
Brewer said the guardian angel was always quietly there with her father as the children grew up helping make sure their father was cared for and helping ensure his children knew he loved them.
The kids were out of the house mostly when tragedy almost struck Temple. He and Fay were on Highway 9 in Central when they were involved in a tragic accident in 1981. Temple attempted to avoid a head-on collision; he took most of the hit as a car crossed the centerline in a curve. Temple’s guardian angel pulled him through to continue his medical practice.
“I knew I was dying — I was at death’s door,” Brewer said her father recalled. “He said, ‘I was already seeing bright lights and it wasn’t headlights. It’s a different feeling. Then I woke up.’”
Fay sustained a concussion and broken bones. Temple was trapped in the car, steering wheel pressed to his chest, his leg broken, hip shattered, his face cut and more.
Brewer said her father realized he was in trouble and couldn’t wait for the jaws of life to come from some distance to help remove him from the car.
“He said, ‘No, I’m losing blood. You call these people around here and get cattle trucks and chains and rip this door off. I’m going to be gone if you don’t do it,’” Brewer said.
Temple’s orders didn’t stop there. When the ambulance arrived the crew wanted to take him and Fay to the hospital in Tallassee. Temple wanted to go to people he worked with demanding the ambulance take the couple to Dr. Whatwood at Russell Hospital or he would get somebody else to take him.
The couple got to Russell Hospital. Temple went on to Birmingham hospitals for three weeks before another three weeks at Russell where his wife was.
“They told him he would be in a wheelchair and would be about a year before he could walk,” James said. “He walked out of Russell Hospital on a walker.”
Brewer said she admired her father’s patience in dealing with anyone.
“He never treated anyone any differently due to race, due to financial status, everybody was the same,” Brewer said. “Early on, like in the early 60s, they would bring in jars of jelly, pickles, eggs or casserole. He would put anybody on a payment plan.”
“He lived his life to care for others — that was his passion,” Peace said. “He gave back. He gave his life to others.”
Brewer knows her father is now resting where God is the ultimate healer.
“He would tell you there is only one great physician,” Brewer said. “He would not hesitate to say that. Everybody is healed there. God has something else to do with daddy. He loves people. He would sit and talk with you. He would tell stories after stories. After the life he has lived, he has plenty to share.”