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AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. TAYLOR PREWITT

Updated: Mar 20




Dr. Taylor Prewitt is a beloved Fort Smith cardiologist whose practice helped many people throughout his career. To those who know him, he’s a jewel. I sent him some questions and asked his input. The following answers are what he gave to me— a small book but worth the read. I’ve included all he told me knowing people will be intrigued by his answers.


What made you decide to write a book about medicine before modern times complicated it?

I thought I would write a book about the history of medicine in Fort Smith after I had written several articles for the journal of the Fort Smith Historical Society, which became the nucleus of the book.


How did you determine the dates to start and end the book?

The starting date was pretty clear, when explorers first arrived at what we call Fort

Smith, instead 1817 at about Christmas time. They had sick soldiers with them and established an area of the Fort as a makeshift hospital. The time of President Ford‘s appearance in Fort Smith to dedicate the new St Edward Hospital was a dramatic event. There was nothing in particular about the ceremony itself, but it symbolized the separation in space between Sparks and Saint Edward. Cooper Clinic had already moved from 100 S. 14th St. to Waldron Road, and, with these two institutions on the east side of town and the others in the old downtown district, the medical practice in Fort Smith began to become more polarized.


Other things that made medicine complicated in Fort Smith included the influx of new doctors into town during the 70s and 80s. When I arrived in 1969, the number of doctors in town was relatively small and doctors all knew one another and were friends. As new doctors came in, I suddenly realized that there were some of them that I had never met after they had been here for a year or two.


Other factors included the increasing importance of third-party payers. Of course, we eventually wound up with almost all the doctors being employed by one of the two hospitals rather than running their own practices. Even the clinics grew so that individual doctors in the clinics had less input into the running of their affairs as the Clinics grew larger.


Do you have a particular place you write? If so, describe it.

I usually do my writing in an armchair with my laptop. It’s located in the library of our house. I may do some of the editing on the desktop computer at the other side the room.


Where did you do your research for your book? Did others help you? If so, who or where?

Much of the original research was done from talking to people, usually the children, of the doctors I was writing about. This was the most fun, and they often provided me with documents and photographs.


The windfall in doing research about the Cooper Clinic was the discovery of five cardboard boxes in a corner of the back office at Cooper Clinic a few years ago, when the Clinic was preparing to merge with Mercy. These boxes included all the original minutes of the Clinic meetings dating back to 1920, with clippings And photographs. We moved these boxes to the Pebley Center at the UAMS library. Shelley Blanton at the Pebley Center, was very helpful, providing access to the scrapbook of Harry McDonald and other various clippings and documents.


A lot of the information about the flu epidemic in Fort Smith came from reviewing microfilm copies of the local newspapers during the time of the 1918 pandemic. The Fort Smith public library has excellent files of previous local newspapers.


A field trip to the museum in Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, gave me a chance to see a skeleton of a mastodon, which figured in the story of Dr. Bourland of Van Buren.


The late Joe Irwin was quite helpful in providing information about the wildcat mountain sanatorium, because his father had been a patient there. Joe also knew a good bit about St. Cloud Coopers family, and provided me with some photographs.

Of course, research is much easier nowadays, because of the Internet, with much material being accessible from a desktop computer, rather than having to make personal visits to view various documents and books.


A number of books on my shelves about medical history, and Fort Smith history were also helpful, and also provided further illustrations.


A field trip to Paris to look through the old Hospital sparked interest in a lot of information about the three generations of smith doctors in Paris. J. C. Smith, the last of the smith doctors in Paris, also provided a lot of information about his family. There was an unpublished History of the Smith Clinic, which also provided much information.


All this is to indicate that it was lots of fun learning about these doctors and the medical trends.


What are other events in your life you’d like to mention?

Mary Bowden and I were married in Little Rock in 1960, after she graduated from University of Arkansas, and after I had finished my first year of medical school.

Our first child, Kendrick was born shortly after I began my internship at North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill. Ellen came a couple of years later and Sally came in 1969. After four years of Chapel Hill, I spent two years in the United States, public health service, stationed at the Shelby County Health Department in Memphis. Then I came to Fort Smith and joined Cooper Clinic where I worked until I retired in 2003.


I did spend the year 1974 with our young family in London. That may have been one of the best years of our lives. I did research in echocardiography at the

Brompton hospital in Chelsea, and we had a great time looking around England and Europe.


I really enjoyed practicing Cardiology. I was the first cardiologist at Cooper Clinic, which had only six doctors in a multispecialty clinic when I arrived in 1969. At one point I think we had six cardiologists and perhaps 125 doctors in all, though, Cooper Clinic was never as large as Holt-Krock clinic.. I had excellent partners

throughout my practice, and I must say that I also had some wonderful patients. Sharing in their lives was one of the great privileges of my life.


What time of day do you prefer to write and why?

I may do some of my best work in the morning, but whenever I get started on something, I find that it’s better to just go ahead and write it then, whatever time of day it is.


Who did your editing?

My daughter, Ellen, who lives in Frederick, Maryland, has done more editing than anyone else. She starts at the beginning of a piece and helps with organization and presenting information and concepts. However, I do not employ a professional editor, and I make sure to proofread and edit everything myself as carefully as I can.


The poet Robert Lowell was bipolar, and he said that he did his writing when he was manic, and he did his editing when he was in the depressive stage. I hope I’m not bipolar, but I do have a different personality for editing than when I am writing. I may try to be creative and expansive when I’m writing, but then, when I edit, I have to remember that nothing that I’ve written is sacred, and I start chopping away at whatever the writer had already written.


Who did your book cover?

Joyce Faulkner is the book cover artist for Red Engine Press, and she did very careful work with the cover. She was kind enough to listen carefully to my suggestions. I thought she did a great job.


Why do you think Fort Smith developed into such a hub for medicine?

This is an interesting question. Of course the city is situated as a crossroads, with roads going east and west and north and south, And it is located on the state line. The river saw to it that Fort Smith was an early settlement and was relatively easy to reach by water in the early days. The 19th century doctors were a varied lot, and many of them were excellent. However, I think the key factor in the growth of medicine in Fort Smith was the development of two major multispecialty clinics, beginning in 1920: Cooper Clinic and Holt-Krock clinic.


Of the three founders whose names appear in the names of these clinics, Fred Krock was the one who was most active in attracting excellent, well qualified physicians in a variety of specialties to Fort Smith.


These physicians, especially in the years after World War II, came from all over the country; one of them, Ernest Mendelsohn, came from Germany as a Jew just before World War II. The result was a medical community that was cosmopolitan. There was a good mix of local, regional, and out-of-state doctors.


Do you have a hobby?

I consider writing to be a major hobby. I have written reviews of all the books I’ve read for the past couple of decades, and I have self published them, in some eight or so volumes. I’ve also written a couple of books of personal memoirs, a couple of books of family history, one book about the literature of medicine (that is books written by or about doctors). I also wrote a book of reviews of all 47 of the novels of Anthony Trollope, so I think Anthony Trollope would have to qualify as a hobby of sorts. My friend, Dr. Todd Stewart, published Reciting Robert Frost in the ICU, the book of reviews in the literature of medicine. This book and the Trollope book were done using professional illustrators for the cover. A medical school classmate, Joe Loewenstein, subsequently edited and published the Trollope reviews on Gutenberg Press. Self publishing these, I did my own editing, layout, typesetting, and book cover design. I thought of this is as something like doing cabinet work in the garage or workshop.


I’ve enjoyed fiddling with photography, starting a dark room just before we moved to Fort Smith in 1969. Most of my photography now consists of pictures of grandchildren with an iPhone. I’ve enjoyed running and playing tennis over the years, and I try to swim three times a week. We enjoyed traveling throughout the years, though we are less aggressive about it now.


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