It was in 1984 that Dr. John Flannery offered me the story of the hospital in the old courthouse. I went to his home several times and interviewed him, but my writing style was not what he needed for the story he wanted written. After working on it for eleven months, I burned my rejected manuscript. Many of our local people have shown an interest in the book I was on ten years ago, so I decide to try to write, for posterity, an abbreviated account of the memories he shared with me.
During the last few years that Dr. Fulcher practiced in Blanco, two young men, John Flannery and Ed Keeley were in medical school in Cincinnati. They both graduated from the University of St. Louis. This was during the heart of the big depression. Money was extremely short and doctors tried hard to keep their patients. Dr Flannery said, with a chuckle, that there was a joke among the young physicians that upon graduation instead of receiving a diploma, they should have been given a dagger to cut the other’s throat with.
Dr. Keeley came to Texas first, starting his practice in Aransas Pass. After the Keeleys had been here two years, the Flannerys came for a visit. They liked this area, and Dr. Flannery set up his first practice in South Austin.
Eventually the two young doctors heard that Dr. Roach was no longer practicing in Blanco, so they decided to go together and reopen the hospital in the big courthouse on the square. Charlie Crist owned the building at that time. Their rent was to be fifty dollars a month. Neither of them had any money to speak of, but they each had some equipment and that was an advantage.
Robert Fulcher, a doctor’s son, known by all as Buster, was a young pharmacist in Blanco at that time. He took it upon himself to beat the bushes and bring in contributions, most of them no more than five dollars. It would be to his advantage, of course, to have the hospital open, but that was not foremost in his mind. Blanco was his hometown. The people needed a hospital. The largest contribution they received was two hundred fifty dollars, a substantial amount of money in those days. Finally, donations toward the hospital amounted to two thousand dollars and Percy Brigham, president of Blanco National Bank, told the two young doctors to go ahead and buy what they needed and the would sign their note.
They had set a date for opening day, Dr Flannery remembered, but three days before then, twenty-two soldiers who were part of a convoy passing through Blanco, stopped off at the hospital for emergency care because they had developed food poisoning. It was an impossible situation because there were only half a dozen beds and only one bathroom. After the young men had recovered enough to continue on their journey, the doctor and nurse realized they didn’t have the names and addresses of any of them. She said that she wasn’t going to waste her two-cent stamp trying to collect on that, and he said he thought a man ought to do something for his country.
Mrs. Ella Pickle was head nurse at Blanco’s Hospital in the Hills, managing her staff, training young nurses, and keeping a close watch on finances. Highly respected and much loved, she mothered all of us and she was never too busy to stop and hear what her patients had to say. She kept good cooks in the kitchen, and one young woman remarked, it was almost worth having a baby to get to eat there for three days.
During our visits, Dr. Flannery always spoke highly of the hospital employees never once belittling anyone who worked there. He told me too, that during the sixteen years that he and Dr. Keeley had the hospital open there never was time when the practice wasn’t covered. The hospital didn’t mail out bills because so many of the patients were faithful in paying as soon as they could. All of the donations were repaid through medical services over the years.
Another point of interest was that the druggist never charged any preacher for medicine for his family.
Dr. Flannery was Irish, and he liked stories best when the joke was on him. His sense of humor made the interviews well worth my time, even if my manuscript didn’t fly. It was a privilege just to sit and listen to him talk.
To the very end of his life Dr. Flannery continued to study medicine. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of his lifetime was that he was not, to my knowledge, able to convey to the page his theory on the cause of cancer.