JACKSON TWP. Dr. Edward Hill will reach a notable milestone Friday when he celebrates his 100th birthday, an achievement as remarkable as his long and distinguished career in medicine.
He has dedicated more than 70 years to curing the sick, counseling patients and consoling the terminally ill. He’s made untold house calls and volunteered countless hours at free clinics in Canton and Massillon.
He’s traded medical care for fruit when patients had no money. He’s delivered 2,000 babies, most of them baby boomers delivered at home. He’s administered anesthesia to some 5,000 patients and completed more than 50,000 patient office visits. And until he retired three years ago, he was the oldest practicing family physician in the United States.
His goal in life was simple: “I just wanted to be a good physician,” he said.
A century of birthdays has been gracious to the native of Brewster who first set up practice in 1947 in the small Stark County village of Beach City, seeing patients from there and nearby areas, including Navarre, Wilmot, Brewster, Strasburg and Dover. Beach City Mayor John Thomas declared Friday Dr. Edward Hill Day at a recent council meeting.
With his 100th birthday three days away, Hill is happy to be healthy and alive. “Good genes,” he explained; his mother, Mignon, lived to 103. He has faithfully followed the Atkins diet and a vigorous exercise program three times a week. The social calendar of the former golfer and fisherman is often full as he lunches with friends and former colleagues.
He is a vibrant man with a strong and steady voice. Any aches and pains he has have failed to sideline him. Time, however, hasn’t overlooked him entirely. There’s the obligatory aching back, loss of hearing and graying hair. Yet he remains young in spirit and young in heart. Except for his joints.
“My joints tell me that I’m almost 100,” he said with outstretched hands. His fingers have been engaged in a longstanding, unresolved battle with arthritis and are showing signs of wear, especially his right thumb which can move in directions no human thumb should.
A widower, he announced he can prepare his own meals when food relatives bring him is gone. “Don’t worry,” he said with a broad grin, “I have a microwave.”
He decided at age 6 to become a physician when he witnessed his grandfather’s extended recovery from a serious compound leg fracture incurred in a railroad accident. Hospitalized for two months, his grandfather had part of his leg amputated because antibiotics hadn’t been invented in 1925 to stop infection. Although penicillin was discovered in 1928, it wasn’t purified and used until 1940.
A 1937 graduate of the old Brewster High School, now in the Fairless Local School District, Hill graduated from The Ohio State University College of Medicine in 1945. While in medical school, he volunteered at Columbus State Hospital and with the Columbus fire department’s emergency medical squad.
After college graduation, he joined the Army Medical Corps for two years, achieving the rank of captain.
Following his military discharge, Hill opened his practice in Beach City, a couple of miles from Brewster where he grew up. His stellar reputation and attention to detail prompted folks from all around to seek him out, whether it was morning, noon or night, because the good doctor considered his patients a top priority.
Arletta Snyder of Beach City was a patient of his in 1958. Three years later, she was working part time in his office. Make no mistake, she recalled, he expected things to be done right.
“He had a great bedside manner,” she noted. “He was compassionate and didn’t rush through an appointment. He took time and listened to their needs. Sometimes, there wasn’t anything physically wrong with a patient — they just needed to talk.”
Sarah Emmert of Massillon is one of six children born to Hill and his wife, Mary. She said her father always came home for dinner.
“We didn’t see very much of him,” she recalled, “ So we climbed all over him when he got home. He was a great country doctor, making house calls as far away as Dover and Baltic.
A lot of times he hauled us in the car with him to talk. He was strict, but very kind and loving.”
Hill not only saw patients by appointment, he operated what is similar to today’s stat care facilities. Patients could show up at the office, sign in, then be seen on a first-come, first-served basis. Often he worked well into the night and beyond.
But all of that was before large health care systems dictated patient care and how doctors are paid. All of that was before the proliferation of insurance requirements, pre-certification forms, complicated billing systems and the fear of rising unpredictable expenses. An Indiana University physician recently wrote, “Overloaded schedules and unrealistic expectations push both doctors and patients to rush through issues instead of taking time to understand each other and build rapport.”
“We’re not better off today,” Dr. Hill says, noting he spent as much as an hour with a new patient and 15-30 minutes with established patients. “I don’t know how it’s going to end up. I tried to know everything about my patients. I was taught to listen to them.”
In 1960, Hill opened a second office in Massillon. Fourteen years later, both offices were moved to Jackson Township where he lives.
He retired from private practice in 1994 but he wasn’t finished helping the sick. A founder and administrator of the Western Stark Medical Clinic in Massillon in 1999, he volunteered his expertise there and at the Total Living Center Free Medical Clinic in Canton until both closed three years ago.
“People were in need,” he said. “They had no money, no insurance. They were ill and destitute and needed help.”
Hill and the Rev. Donald Bartow, founder of Total Living Center Bridge of Compassion in Canton which feeds and serves the needy, go way back.
Hill volunteered his medical expertise at the TLC Free Clinic and together the two men formed a lasting bond.
“He is, beyond a doubt, the finest gentleman I’ve ever met,” Bartow said. “He served so faithfully at our clinic until it closed. He’s just amazing. I love him.”
A Presbyterian, Bartow sometimes goes to Massillon to worship with Hill, who’s a member of St. Timothy Episcopal Church. “We go to the communion rail together and I think he likes that,” said Bartow who will be 91 on May 3.
Hill’s first wife died in 1986. His other children are: Geoffrey of Twinsburg, Mary Ann Weise of Massillon, Edward Jr. of Columbia, S.C., Betty Harlan of Dallas and Tempe, Ariz., and Maude Sullivan of Tampa. Hill and the former Jane Slayman of Beach City were married until her passing in 1998. His stepdaughter is Lyn Barnhart of North Carolina. There are 15 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.