Brundidge historian relates stories of ‘Dr. Tommy’

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dr. Francis Thomas (Tommy) Johnston retired from medical practice in Brundidge much too soon.

Anyone under the age of 50 will probably ask, “Doctor, who?”

For those who don’t know and to refresh the memories of others, John Phillip Johnston told a gathering at the Johnston Parlor in Brundidge Tuesday afternoon that “Dr. Tommy,” as he was fondly called, was the best diagnostician anywhere during the time he practiced medicine in Tarentum and Brundidge from 1920 until around 1950.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Johnston, a local historian, was the guest speaker at the Johnston Parlor Tuesday prayer time and shared stories of the doctor, who once called the “Parlor” home.

The Johnston Parlor was renovated by members of Salem Baptist Church and is the site of a variety of church gatherings. It is also used as a guesthouse for overnight guests of the church.

Johnston painted a vivid picture, not only of the doctor who served the Brundidge community with such dedication for three decades, but also of the town during his service.

The Johnstons, the doctor and the historian, were related and the younger Johnston held his cousin in high esteem.

“Dr. Tommy always kept a nice car, a big Buick,” Johnston said. “But, he never drove. He always had someone drive for him.”

Once when the doctor’s driver was unavailable, he enlisted the services of young Johnston.

“Dr. Tommy wanted to go to Blountstown, Fla. fishing and he asked me to drive him,” Johnston said. “I was only 12 years old but Dr. Tommy said that didn’t matter. I had been driving on dirt roads since I was 10. He asked me if my daddy would let me drive him to Florida and I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘well then, don’t ask him.’”

Johnston didn’t ask his dad and he drove the good doctor on the first of many fishing trips to Florida.

The doctor had a “place” at the beach and so did his young driver’s family. Without his daddy’s knowledge or permission, Johnston drove the doctor to the beach “too many times to count.”

“When we got there, Dr. Tommy would ask me if I wanted to go check on our place,” Johnston said. “He would give me a $50 bill. I didn’t even know they made money in bills that big. He would tell me to spend it if I needed to and, if I didn’t, to take it home with me. I would head out for ‘The Hangout’ and I was a big dog in that big Buick.”

Johnston was privileged to see the fun and adventurous side of “Dr. Tommy” and he also saw that soft, caring side.

One Mother’s Day, the young driver took the doctor to see his aging mother who was in a “home” in Tuscaloosa.

“When it was time for us to leave, Dr. Tommy’s mother said to him, ‘I wanna go home.’ Of course, he couldn’t take her,” Johnston said. “His eyes glistened. He was a tender-hearted, generous man.”

The doctor shared two stories with his young driver that illustrated his desire to go into the practice of medicine.

“Dr. Tommy said that there were two reasons that he went into medicine,” Johnston said. “The first was when his eight-year-old brother, James Shelby, died with appendicitis. Doctors didn’t know anything much about treating an appendicitis and he saw his little brother suffer and die.”

The other incident that charted the doctor’s life was when a local man was bitten twice on his hand and once on his neck by a “mad” dog and went mad himself.

“There was nothing that could be done for the man and he knew it,” Johnston said. “So, he asked his family to chain him to a tree so that he couldn’t harm anybody. Dr. Tommy said that the man died an agonizing death and all anyone could do was stand and watch.”

Johnston said that although a person with rabies begs for water to drink, they cannot swallow it because their throat closes up.

“Dr. Tommy said the man’s family would push a pan of water to him but he couldn’t swallow it,” he said. “The water would run out his mouth and down his clothes.”

The good Brundidge doctor held close the memories of his little brother and the man chained to a tree begging for water and then to die. He vowed to do all that he could to relieve human suffering for as many as possible.

Dr. Tommy cared for the people of Brundidge with love, concern and caring. The members of Salem Baptist Church honor his memory by the love, concern and caring expressed for others and the community every other Tuesday when the prayer group meets at the Johnston Parlor.