06/23/08 — Dr. Jesse Blackman retires after 30 years of caring

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Dr. Jesse Blackman retires after 30 years of caring

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 23, 2008 1:46 PM

FREMONT -- For more than 30 years, Dr. Jesse Blackman has served his community as a physician, a volunteer and -- most importantly -- a friend.

And now that he has retired from his practice as the town's only family physician, friends and family decided to use his birthday as an excuse Saturday to tell him just what he means to them -- and to present him with a surprise honor as well.

Dr. Blackman was lured to his church, Fremont United Methodist, on Saturday under the guise of a birthday party. As the evening unfolded, those gathered thanked him for his service to his community -- and made him one of the newest recipients of the state's highest honor -- the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

Dr. Blackman, 65, who retired last December, practiced family medicine there since 1975 -- first in a one-man office, the final three at Eastern Medical in Pikeville.

Daughter Egie Blackman said his practice ran like a "well-oiled machine," with one doctor, one nurse, two office assistants, and one office manager, the latter being wife Norma.

His wife of 36 years, he will say, was an "integral part" of that practice.

But it would be health problems of their own that forced the couple to scale back. Both are doing fine these days, the physician says, but the concern nevertheless prompted retirement sooner that he had planned.

"I have enjoyed my 32 years," he told those gathered. "I wish I had more."

The "forced early retirement" was bittersweet, he admitted.

"Maybe at some point an opportunity will come up for me to do a little bit more," he said.

That would be fine with his patients.

D. Frank Hinnant, 88, also a personal friend, said it will never be like it was.

"There was a time when we could simply call down there and say, 'I don't feel well. Can I see him today?' and they'd work you in."

Vickie Pippin was a secretary in his office for 20 years.

"I don't know of a doctor that I trust any more than I do Dr. Blackman or value his opinion," she said. "After I left there, I had breast cancer. I called him first to see what direction to go. He was always my friend as much as my boss, a family friend. He was a super special individual all the way around, very easy to talk to."

Charles Bruton, lay leader at Fremont UMC, grew up on the same block as the Blackman family, which, he pointed out, produced three sons, all doctors -- including Dr. Gib Blackman and Dr. Walt Blackman, who both also practice in Wayne County.

Bruton called his friend and parishioner a leader, visionary and "friend to all people."

"He served faithfully as community leader and top physician," he said. "He is a man of integrity. He has excellent character and compassion for his fellow man."

Also known for the love of his family, he and Norma have two children, daughter Egie and son Jay, who with wife Emily just produced the family's first grandchild, 10-week-old Talley.

But the reciprocal respect goes beyond his hometown and into the medical realm, Bruton said, noting his pride in being able to call Dr. Blackman his referring doctor.

"He was recognized by his colleagues and other peers as top notch," he said.

Devone Jones, Fremont mayor, recalled how Dr. Blackman came to be hired by the town.

"In 1973, Dr. Blackman was just finishing college at UNC. I was on the town board at that time, serving my first term," he said. "We tried to get a doctor to come to Fremont because the doctor we had was retiring."

Dr. Blackman's practice opened July 1, 1975.

Upon reading a resolution from the town board recognizing Dr. Blackman's service, Jones said, "I know all the citizens of Fremont are real proud of this man ... and we thank you for all you have done."

County commissioners Andy Anderson and Efton Sager also presented a resolution to the "skilled healer and trusted confidante," proclaiming June 21 as Dr. Jesse Aycock Blackman Day in Wayne County "for his leadership in this county and significant impact it has made."

Sen. John Kerr presented "the highest award that you can get from the governor of the state of North Carolina," the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

But the recognitions did not stop there.

The Fremont Rotary Club, which annually presents the Family and Community Service Award, announced the honor would be known from now on as the "John Blackman Family and Community Service Award," named for Dr. Blackman's father, one of the first members of the local club.

Dr. Jesse Blackman was its first recipient.

"You all have just overwhelmed me tonight," he said as he took the podium. "What started out as a birthday party has turned into something so unexpected. I'm totally overwhelmed, completely surprised."

Surveying the packed fellowship hall, he reflected on his years serving as the town's doctor.

"How much I feel honored to be allowed into your lives and your family's lives," he said. "It certainly has made me stand in awe of what you all go through yourselves, and what you have done for the community. It just creates a bond in the whole area."

In actuality, the practice drew people from across the state.

"He had in excess of 10,000 patients," Mary Lee Flowers noted. "And I don't care what your problem was, he made you feel like you were the only patient. That personal touch was what touched all of us.

"He made you feel like you were sitting in your family room, talking to you."

Mrs. Flowers' husband, Darron, was among those who organized the celebration.

"We just enjoyed it," Flowers said. "There was no work to it -- it just fell into place.

"Everyone that we asked actually volunteered to be a part of it."

Sarah Beth Harris, president-elect of the Rotary Club, and its current president Brian Bennett, called their role in it "an honor."

Arnold Jones Jr., a long-time family friend, also spoke highly of Dr. Blackman's contributions.

"I could only hope when I get ready to retire, that people would say that I have done as much as he has done for his community," he said.

Son Jay said it had been a challenge to keep a secret from his father, but it was worth it.

"I think this town means as much to him as he does to them," he said.

Taking a moment to sit down after the proceedings, Dr. Blackman said he still hadn't quite taken it all in.

"The sentiment that I would feel is that I did grow up here," the guest of honor said. "Doctors don't usually come home to practice.

"But I did and it's been absolutely amazing and overwhelming. The response of this community, especially those that knew me way back when, has been great."