Enjoying the golden years

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 9, 2009

Born in 1927 Donald C. Overstreet, M.D., meets qualifications for membership in the population of those enjoying the “Golden Years.”

However, a few minutes of conversation reveal a uniqueness that sets him apart from the majority of the group’s mostly retired members. After graduating from the University of Alabama Medical School more than a half-century ago, he is still practicing medicine. And retirement is not in the picture, he freely states, asking, “What in the world would I do?”

Overstreet was born in Flatwood, “a sawmill town with a thousand or more people then.” Attending school in Catherine through the 10th grade, he completed the 11th and 12th in Camden, then joined the Navy in 1946.

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“The war was almost over, so after completing basic training I was tested and given the option of entering the Medical Corps.”

He trained three months at Bethesda, Md. and spent 20 months in the National Navy Medical Center, receiving his discharge in May 1948. Overstreet had long known that wanted to be a doctor; knowledge realized when a doctor in Selma saved the life of his brother, who was seriously ill with pneumonia.

He began his pre-med training in June 1948 at the University of Alabama, finishing in three years, then receiving acceptance at the U of A Medical School. Graduating in 1955, Overstreet received his M.D. degree, married Suzy Harper, an RN, and the couple moved to Robert R. Greene Memorial Hospital in San Antonio, where he served as an intern for a year and she worked in the department of surgery.

“We accepted the offer in San Antonio because it was one of the few places that paid an intern $100 monthly instead of $25. Now, they are paid $30,000 a year. My three sisters were also living in San Antonio, which was nice.”

Completing his internship he joined former classmate Dr. Roy Larrimore in general practice in Thomasville. The two decided to alternate training in general surgery each year. Flipping a coin, Larrimore won and Overstreet stayed in Thomasville.

In July the next year, Overstreet joined the Selma Baptist Hospital staff. Making a go in the hospital was pretty rough, though, he recalls.

“We were a self-sufficient organization, didn’t make anything personally, just enough to get by.”

Although the Selma group had no money to build the hospital, they offered stock certificates and in 1968, the hospital that is now Vaughan Regional Medical Center was built.

Each year in Selma Overstreet had spent six weeks in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the American Academy of Family Physicians was organized, and in 1971 he became a charter member, the only one in Selma and one of only eight in the state. After Wallace’s administration passed a bill allowing any town of 25,000 or more to establish a residency program in family medicine, Overstreet was tapped to run the residency program, which necessitated leaving his private practice.

“My partners were kind and we had a goodly number to start the residency program in Selma,” said Overstreet. “I asked every doctor for approval and association in the program and they all helped. Over the years we graduated 128 doctors in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.”

In the meantime, family medicine had grown so that it had to expand into a new building with the federal government funding the majority of the program. However, after one of Selma’s two hospitals was taken down, Overstreet says simply, “I lost my status.”

He stayed out of medicine two months; “then Sonny Gibbs and his brother came to me, said Valley Grande had a building, a pharmacy and no doctor.”

Since the transition, Overstreet has been there three years for three days a week, and sees 25-30 patients each day.

“God said to me, ‘be a nice guy and take care of my patients,’” Overstreet said. “I did it because God took a country boy and showed him how to be a doctor. I take care of just about anything and refer to a specialist when needed.”

A monthly relaxation for him is the luncheon meeting of his “Old Man’s Group” at Major Grumbles. “There are about 50 of us, all with stories to tell; friends like Jimmy Alison, Buddy Moss, Sam Moseley, Caldwell Debardeleben , a good crowd…fun to be with.”

Overstreet also finds time to enjoy his six grandchildren, the children of his three daughters: John and Melissa Overstreet Bloohm of Little Rock and daughter Courtney; Hunter and Lydia Overstreet Jackson and son Hunt of Birmingham; and Mark and Jennifer Overstreet Styslinger of Birmingham and their four children: Mac, Claudia, Stella and Lydia.

And when friends mention retirement, he reiterates, firmly, “Retire! What on earth would I do?”