Country-Style Doctor

Scratch any one of the few hundred residents of Verona, Ky., tiny, rural Boone County hamlet, and you'll find a staunch friend of 83 year old Dr. James F. McCormac, who has been ministering to the ills of his fellow townspeople for more than a half a century.

When silver-haired, 83 year-old Dr. McCormac - "spell it without the 'k' please" - started practicing medicine in Verona, his birthplace, 59 years ago, little Verona boasted five doctors.  Now he is the only one left.

Looking back over the years, Dr. McCormac recalled when babies were delivered, right in the farmhouse bedroom, at $10 each, but on the basis of PWYC, or pay when you can.  Twins ran slightly higher.

But it seems that some people never could pay and now Dr. McCormac has some $30,000 in old accounts which never will be collected.

As it might be guessed, Dr. McCormac is Irish.  His father came from County Cork, his mother from adjoining County Waterford.

From this union there were born 11 children, six boys and five girls.  All the brothers and sisters spell the name with a "k" tacked on the end, but when young James attended League Institute, a private educational school in Verona, his teacher told him the "k" was unnecessary, and it has been that way ever since.

"Doc" graduated from Ohio Medical College in April, 1895.  The following July he married his childhood sweetheart, Katherine Kennedy.  She was Irish, too.  Mrs. McCormac died May 1, 1944.

During his senior year in medical school a practicing Verona physician took young James McCormac under his wing.  He would take him along on his professional calls for, as the physicians said, "McCormac, you need some practical experience."

One day the veteran doctor, who was scheduled to call on a woman who lay dying at her home, was called out on a hurry-up childbirth case.  "McCormac, you go,; he said. "But what'll I give her?" asked young McCormac.  "Give her anything, she's going to die anyway."

But young Doctor-to-be McCormac didn't think the patient was going to die.  He diagnosed her malady as worms.  And worm medicine was what she got.  About a week later, the doctor asked his protégé what he had given her.  "Why, did I kill her? asked young James. "Tarnation no!" was the reply. "Yesterday she did the family wash"

Already famous, because of that little incident, he soon has a practice that took him through parts of Boone, Grant, and Gallatin counties.  He had to keep a stable of three horses.  When roads were passable, usually only in summer, he rode in a buggy.  The other times he rode horseback.  Come rain, come flood, come sleet and snow, Dr. McCormac was ever on the go.  During the influenza epidemic of 1917-18, he made 75 calls in one 24 hour period.  A little Kentucky bourbon helped some now and then, he conceded.

And it was a long time before the Model T replaced the horse because it took several years to build bridges on all the side roads.  a horse could ford a swirling stream, he found, but a "tin lizzie" couldn't ford a creek when the rains descended and the floods came.

If he had to do it all over again, would he be a doctor?  Yes, if he could eliminate the night calls, was his chuckled reply.


by Robert W. Ellis, in the Cincinnati Enquirer, February 21, 1954