December 31, 2014 marks the end of an era in Clay County. When the last patient leaves that day, Dr. David Greer will close the doors on his family medical practice in Henrietta, Texas. After 50 years in the business, he is retiring.
“It’s hard to just quit doing something that you really enjoy,” Greer says of his retirement. “Being able to make a difference in people’s lives is very rewarding. It isn’t that I wanted to retire, but lots of things just lined up that helped us make the decision it was time to do something else.”
It’s no wonder Greer is having a hard time closing this chapter of his life. Greer’s family has been practicing medicine over a period that spans three centuries. His grandfather, Albert Greer, was a doctor in east Texas in the late 1800s, before riding horseback to Clay County and establishing his practice in 1914.
Greer, a Henrietta High School graduate, became a doctor in 1964 and opened his practice in Henrietta in 1972. However, he had been a doctor in training his entire life – going with his grandfather all the time making house calls.
“I think he mostly wanted a gate opener,” Greer says, smiling. “But I got to experience a lot of things with him – from doctoring sick people to sewing up wounded people.”
When it came time to go to college, his career choice was easy.
“There was never really any question in my mind,” he says. “It’s just what I always enjoyed doing. Whenever I had a free moment I was going through my grandfather’s medical books, looking in his microscope, asking him questions and just really always enjoyed it.”
A member of the Army ROTC since college at Midwestern State University, Greer was drafted as a Lieutenant right out of University of Texas’ medical school into the Army Medical Corps. He served in Veterans Hospitals in San Francisco and Germany before being transferred to Vietnam as a combat aviation flight surgeon with a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) Unit in 1968-69.
After leaving the Service in 1969, Greer and his wife, Lea Ann, a Bluegrove native, looked to set up a family practice and settle down with their children, John and Jan. Greer didn’t intend to set up a practice in Henrietta.
“Even though we were both from this area, I didn’t want to come back as a family doctor and make it seem like I was trying to fill my grandfather’s shoes,” Greer said, “We wanted to set up in a different location.
“We looked all over Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle and other parts of Texas,” Greer says. “But we really couldn’t find anything.”
He began practicing with a group of doctors in Nocona in 1970. Then in 1972 Henrietta needed a doctor so the Greers made the decision to come back home.
“Opening a practice by yourself makes you a little nervous,” he says. “They said they needed a doctor. We just hoped they were right.”
Greer was the physician with Lea Ann doing the bookkeeping. The community welcomed them with open arms and they formed relationships with their patients that have spanned generations.
“It is really a compliment to me when I have patients whose children and grandchildren come to me,” he says.
He delivered many babies that are now adults in their 30s and 40s in the area, and remains the family physician for lots of of them.
As a young boy in the 1940s, Greer remembers going with his grandfather to make a house call at the home of D.E. and Hattie Reese, who lived at the headquarters of the Bryant Edwards Ranch east of Henrietta.
“I remember those visits very well because the house was out in the middle of nowhere and there was a tough barbwire gate to get to their house that I always had to open and shut,” he says.
After he opened his own practice in Henrietta, both D.E. and Hattie ended up being his patients, along with their four children, whose children and grandchildren continue to see Greer.
Part of being a doctor is being on call. Most all of Greer’s patients would agree he is unique in how he goes above and beyond the call of duty.
As D.E. and Hattie aged they both developed cancer. Greer referred them to specialists and even assisted with technical surgeries.
“When Mother first got referred to a specialist she was upset because she wanted David to be her doctor,” says Hattie’s daughter, Dorothy Reese Kucharski, who is a longtime patient of Greer’s. “I remember he patted her and told her he would always be her doctor, he was just going to add a few more to help her out. And she was very comforted by that.”
Near the end of their life when they got very sick, Kucharski remembers Greer giving her his personal cell number and told her to call anytime they needed him.
“If he didn’t hear from us, he would call us and check on them,” she says. “And the day Daddy died, he came to the hospital to visit him at noon. Then he called his office and told them to cancel his patients that afternoon he was staying with Daddy. And he stayed with all of us until Daddy died at 5:30 that afternoon.
“As a family, I don’t know how we would have made it if it weren’t for David,” she continues. “He has just been one of those people that takes care of you no matter what. You just don’t get that kind of treatment in most places. He hasn’t just been our physician, he has been our friend.”
Greer admits that he likes to get to know his patients to diagnose them better and always wants them to feel like they can depend on him as their doctor.
“I like my patients to feel comfortable with me and know I am going to give them the best care I can,” he says. Then he laughs and tells the story of how one night he was in bed reading and thought he heard someone at the door. The next thing he knew, he looked up and one of his patients was standing at the foot of his bed with some questions about his health.
“It surprised me, but at least I knew he was pretty comfortable with his doctor,” he says laughing.
In fact, Greer’s personable demeanor and excellent care earned him the prestigious honor of being named Texas Family Physician of the year in 2004. He was voted on by his colleagues in the Texas Academy of Family Physicians. It is an honor he does not take lightly.
“It was a total surprise,” he says. “It is quite an honor to be chosen by your peers among so many other deserving doctors.”
Greer feels being a family doctor also means being involved in your local community. He has given his time back to the community in many ways, serving on many boards including the Chamber of Commerce, Clay County Pioneer Reunion and Rodeo and many others.
As the final business day draws near, Greer reflects back on his 50 years as a doctor and his lifetime in medicine.
“Things have changed a lot since I started here,” he says. “Medicine and technology have made some great advances. I think back to those early doctors like my grandfather and how they did business. And really, we all have our challenges in this business; they are just of a different nature now.”
One thing that he says has made a big difference for the local community was the establishment of an ambulance at the hospital.
“When I first started here, we didn’t have an ambulance,” he says. “If someone got hurt, then we had a station wagon that we would go pick them up in. It was actually driven by the undertaker. You couldn’t do CPR, put in an I.V. or anything but really sit back there with them. Getting an ambulance for those situations was a big improvement.”
From riding bulls, playing in polo matches and in-flight surgery under fire, Greer has led a full life. And that doesn’t look to be changing with his retirement. In addition to looking after his family’s ranch in the southern part of the county, he is still going to work two 24-hour shifts as the on-call doctor at Clay County Memorial Hospital.
As for a new doctor to take over his patients, no one has stepped into that role yet.
“I don’t have such an ego to think I’m irreplaceable,” he says. “Someone else will come along.”