A large crowd gathered early at Hampton Park in downtown Camden on Wednesday afternoon for a 3 p.m. ceremony honoring a long-time physician known as “Dr. Mac.” About 70 people sat in chairs while another 30 to 40 stood across the street from the house where Dr. Francis N. McCorkle first lived in Camden. Several people were on the agenda to speak. The Camden Military Academy (CMA) color guard became a last-minute addition, representing the facility where McCorkle has served as school doctor for 57 years.
The program marked the latest installation of a Leaders Legacy bench -- this time in honor of McCorkle, part of a program Camden Mayor Tony Scully said “holds up as model citizens” those who have significantly contributed to the city.
“He is the best diagnostician we have,” Scully declared, something other speakers would attest to during the ceremony. “Like Dr. McCorkle, these benches are reminders of excellence. In that respect, Dr. Mac is way ahead of the pack.”
Scully noted McCorkle’s first years as a cardiologist, before moving on to becoming an internist.
“They say the heart is the seat of intelligence. Perhaps that’s why you have captured the hearts of many of us,” the mayor said.
Jim McGuirt, one of McCorkle’s long-time friends and patients, served as master of ceremonies, and said Dr. Mac enjoys music, including opera; fishing; and telling funny stories. He also talked about McCorkle’s ability to diagnose patients without any machine much more sophisticated than a stethoscope.
“A man went to a clinic, was diagnosed and got some medicine, but he didn’t get well,” McGuirt began. “When he got home, he went to Dr. Mac, who took one look at him and said, ‘You’ve got shingles; get off those meds,’ and the man got better.”
Another story from McGuirt: McCorkle’s wife went to the hospital and a nurse asked him who her doctor was.
“She said, ‘Dr. McCorkle.’ ‘Oh,’ the nurse said, ‘he’s my hero.’”
McGuirt said the nurse had fallen ill once and Dr. Mac looked at her, determined she was pregnant and bleeding internally.
“‘Get her upstairs,’ he told them,” McGuirt said. “The lady said he saved her life.”
McGuirt said McCorkle, 88, is often asked when he plans to retire.
“He says, ‘Don’t worry about me. I plan to bury the last person on Earth -- want to help me?’”
He said Dr. Mac doesn’t smoke, but enjoys chewing on cigars, and presented him with a box of them as a gift from the podium.
He then brought up CMA’s first headmaster, Lanning Risher, to say a few words. Risher said when his father, Col. James Risher, purchase CMA in 1958, they were told to seek out McCorkle and get him to be the school’s physician. He said they were told McCorkle was “the smartest guy you’ve ever known.”
“He’s in his 57th year as the school doctor at Camden Military and he’s never made a mistake,” Risher said. “It’s phenomenal. He’s seen thousands of cadets and not once did a parent complain about Dr. Mac.”
Risher said CMA’s infirmary is named for McCorkle and commented on the doctor being part of America’s “Greatest Generation” from World War II.
“He was one in one of the first companies to liberate Dachau. He served his country valiantly and his community unselfishly. And he’s always enjoyed his work. He was very busy, but said he never really worked because he loved it. I’ll use one of Dr. Mac’s own sayings: He’s ‘straight up as 6 o’clock,’” Risher said.
Two other long-time McCorkle friends -- Ross Beard and Doyle Allen spoke. Beard called McCorkle a “national treasure.” Allen said that when his former doctor died in Great Falls, the community worked to erect a memorial.
“I decided I would do my best to get one for Dr. Mac,” Allen said, gesturing at the bench behind him.
McCorkle himself made his way to the podium, and declared the bench couldn’t have been set in a better place, across from the house he grew up in and where his son, Trey, lives now.
“I thank everyone for this ceremony and I think it will be nice to come over here at night and sit here. Like the old song says, ‘It’s a wonderful way to spend an evening,’” McCorkle said to a standing ovation.
Camden Urban Forester Liz Gilland ended the program by saying it was “wonderful” to see the “outpouring of love” for McCorkle.
“We are happy to place the bench here,” Gilland said, and thanked all those who helped out, including McCorkle’s family; McGuirt, Allen and others involved in the nominating process; Assistant to the City Manger Caitlin Corbett and City Manger Administrative Assistant Julie Lee for planning and organizing the event; and the Camden Fire Department for its assistance with the program.
(The cutline for the photograph of the McCorkle family at the Leaders Legacy bench has been rewritten to correctly identify Jan McCorkle as Dr. Francis N. McCorkle's daughter-in-law.)