Dr. Corrie Blair Endures

by Don Williams

“I’m one of a dying breed,” says Dr. Corrie Blair.

“I don’t like government medicine. I don’t like insurance medicine. I don’t like pharmacists telling you how to practice medicine.”

If Blair seems set in her ways, she has reason to be.

She is 80 years old, although with her clear brown eyes and brown hair, she doesn’t look it. She started practicing medicine when common sense directed how to treat common colds.

In this age of HMOs, Tenncare and other programs brought in by big business and government, the bureaucrats and politicians have laid down a thick strata of regulation on what used to be an uncluttered profession.

When Blair entered medicine more than 54 years ago, so-called innovations, such as preventive medicine, boiled down to using good common sense.

“These organizations and things they’re doing now are all based on economics rather than treating the patient,” says Blair in a clear, high voice. There was a time, however, a time when …

Blair was a child when the bridge was put across the Tennessee River in Loudon, cutting her family out of the ferry business. Her family’s ownership of choice real estate made life easy for her. Maybe too easy.

It could be that’s one reason she chose medicine. For a young lady in the 1930s, training to be a doctor was far from easy.

Blair made good grades in Loudon County High School, but while the boys were studying biology and algebra, she was studying “domestic science” with the other girls.

“The only thing they thought we could do was get married or teach school, but when I got out there was no one I wanted to marry who wanted to marry me, so I went to college.”

She attended two years at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga., taking her first real science course there as a sophomore.

“I liked science better than anything, so I thought, I’ll just study more science and be a doctor.”

She returned to Tennessee and entered the University of Tennessee pre-med program.

“It wasn’t too popular for women to do,” she says, and her family and friends needed convincing that she was serious. Her first cousin, Dr. Blair Harrison, was chief of staff at Knoxville General Hospital , and he offered to let her take nurse’s training to test her mettle.

“After that was over, I told them, why yes, I still want to be a doctor, and I applied to the UT College of Medicine in Memphis. Back then there were no dormitories, and we lived in houses with residents. My family thought it would be OK. There was another girl in my class, and we went all the way through together.”

It was while in Memphis that she met Dr. William Thomas McPeake.

“He was an old country boy, and I was an old country girl. We were staying at the same boarding house, and every evening we would get together on the front porch. I’d go for a walk and he’d go with me. He was working his way through.”

McPeake graduated ahead of Blair, but stayed in Memphis to intern until she graduated in 1941. When he was called up for military training in Pennsylvania, Blair went to Philadelphia to serve her medical internship.

There, on Jan. 24, 1942, they were married. When McPeake shipped out to North Africa for service under Gen. George S. Patton, he left behind a pregnant wife.

“Our daughter, Molly, was 3 years old when he got back,” she remembers. She was the first of four children.

Molly Peeler is a physician at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.

William T. McPeake is an orthopedic specialist, practicing mostly at St. Mary’s.

Sara Louise Gilkey, now a lawyer in Lynchburg, Va., married a doctor.

Ed Blair McPeake operates the family farm, raising cattle in Loudon.

The children were all born in Loudon, and it was there where McPeake rejoined his wife after the war.

“I told him this is the garden spot of the world, and this is where I want to live.”

By the time he returned, Blair had cobbled together a family practice.

Together they made house calls, mostly in a Jeep, like those McPeake knew in the Army.

“We used to deliver all the babies. We’d carry a little ether into the home and knock ’em out if they needed it. We’d spend the night with them and charge about $25. If they didn’t have the money, sometimes they’d give us something. If they were killing hogs, they’d give you some part of it, or maybe a chicken.

“We had real good luck. The Lord took care of us.”

The pair bought a little house downtown, where they conducted their practice. Later they built the modern Loudon Health Care Clinic, of concrete and steel, and moved the little house out to their farm.

Blair, who kept her maiden name rather than face a mountain of paperwork to change it on licenses, certificates and other forms, was ahead of her time.

“I was the first in our hospital (the old Charles H. Bacon Hospital, now Fort Sanders Loudon Medical Center) to let a man come in for the delivery of his baby. It worked out well. I’ve had husbands jumping up and down when the baby came out.

“One of the old things, which is good, is stressing preventive care. I’ve stressed it all my life. We told people they shouldn’t smoke. We had tobacco allotments on the farm, but quit growing it. We got to feeling guilty.”

McPeake died three years ago, and despite hands, swollen at times from arthritis, Blair still wears her wedding rings on a chain around her neck.

People in town call her Dr. Corrie, and she has a personal relationship with literally thousands of them.

“I think it’s real important for doctors to know their patients. In these new programs they just rush you through like a herd of cattle. They don’t talk to you. They don’t listen to you.”

Blair still listens, even though specialists have taken away many of her patients.

She quit delivering babies, for instance, shortly after babies she had delivered began having babies of their own. These days, more often than not, find her visiting area nursing homes, a practice she enjoys.

Asked when she plans to retire, she says resolutely, “When something comes along and knocks me over. Of course, these new medical programs might put me out of business. If that happens, I’ll find something else I like to do, but not any better.”

Caption: photo (1) (Color) DR. CORRIE BLAIR of Loudon has been practicing medicine since delivery of a baby cost about $25 or whatever the patient had to offer in return for the service. On the examining table are various certificates she received at her 80th birthday party recently. Margaret Bentlage/News-Sentinel staff.

Caption: photo (1) (Color) A wall of degrees and proclamations attest to the years Blair has been helping patients in her native Loudon County. Margaret Bentlage/News-Sentinel staff.

Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel – January 9, 1996 – Section: Living – Page: B1

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