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Longtime physician Dr. Francis McCorkle passes away at 90

Posted: January 2, 2017 5:57 p.m.
Updated: January 3, 2017 1:00 a.m.
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Dr. McCorkle at the dedication of his Legacy Leadership Bench in 2014.

Dr. Francis N. McCorkle, Jr. will be remembered for a sharp intellect, superior professional skills and knowledge and down-to-earth demeanor that endeared him to everyone he met, friends said Monday.

Dr. McCorkle, known to all as “Dr. Mac” and widower of Betty Lou Ivey McCorkle, died Dec. 29, 2016 at the age of 90. 

McCorkle was born April 16, 1926 in Camden.  He graduated from Camden High School in 1943 and attended the University of South Carolina for a semester before joining the U.S. Army in 1944; he would see action in Europe in WW II and was with the units of American soldiers that first liberated the Dachau concentration camp. He would return to USC after WW II and complete his degree in three years, then entered the Medical University of South Carolina, from which he graduated in 1953. After doing residencies in Cincinnati, OH and at MUSC, receiving a national Institutes of Health grant for a year of cardiology fellowship, McCorkle would return to Camden in 1957, where he married Betty Lou Ivey and started his practice. He would practice medicine for more than 60 years and in fact was seeing patients up until December 2016.

Dr. Curtis Watkins said McCorkle was a mentor, colleague and friend. He said he first got to know McCorkle when he was a medical student and McCorkle was a resident.

“We all liked taking call with him because he didn’t give us a hard time – he was always jolly, easy going,” Watkins said. “Later, he helped me a lot when I came here, especially with the teen population I had in my practice.”

In fact, McCorkle not only took care of generations of Camden and Kershaw Countians, he took care of many from other places: he would become the physician for Camden Military Academy in 1958.

“He was our physician at Camden Military Academy – in fact the infirmary is named for him,” long-time friend and former CMA Headmaster Lanning Risher said.  “When we were first looking for a doctor for the school, we asked the physician (the late Dr. Michael C. Watson) of our school in Bamberg (Carlisle Military School) for a recommendation. He told me ‘if you can, get Dr. Francis McCorkle – he’s the smartest guy I’ve ever met.”

“If there were ever anyone who exemplified a life well lived, it would be him; he was a good friend and just a fine person,” Risher said.

Long time friend Jim McGuirt also spoke of McCorkle’s professional acumen and intellect.

“He was probably the best diagnostician to ever come around these parts – he just had a gift,” McGuirt said. 

There was one incident during which a young woman, clearly in distress, presented at the hospital with stomach pains, and no one could determine what exactly was wrong with her. Dr. McCorkle listened to her stomach with his stethoscope for a moment, then announced that not only was she pregnant – she did not know that – but that she was bleeding internally and needed to go into emergency surgery that moment.

She survived.

“There were so many stories like that – he just knew, he had a gift,” McGuirt said. “He loved his work – he always said the day he couldn’t work, the day he could no longer serve people, he would be ready for the good Lord to come on and take him home.”

McCorkle was a member of Bethesda Presbyterian Church and also attended Lyttleton Street United Methodist Church. As a young man, Dr. Mac played trumpet with a jazz band. He was also gifted at playing the piano by ear, enjoying big band jazz and complex chords. All who knew him experienced his unique brand of wit and humor. Dr. Mac was an avid fisherman, and perhaps the only fisherman who consistently wore a necktie. 

Friends spoke of McCorkle’s sense of humor, his interests in and love for reading, music and fishing – and his love of and ability to tell a good story.

 “We’d go fishing and he’d tell stories,” McGuirt said. “Sometimes he’d ask, ‘was that a good one’ and I’d say, ‘yes, you told it as good as the last time you told it.’”

McCorkle is survived by his sons, Trey (Jan) and Phillip (Beth); grandson, Joey, a sophomore at Clemson University; and granddaughter Kelly, who is a senior at Wofford College and will attend MUSC College of Dental Medicine in 2017; and his special friend, Marietta Gordon.

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