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Grace Hospital - History of Our Physicians - (back to History Wall Main Page)


Dr. J.B. Riddle joins the medical staff along with Dr. Charles Ross. The first abdominal surgery is performed by local physicians.

“The local interest and help has far exceeded our hopes. In every way the community, almost to a man, has been glad to help. The physicians of the town and county have shown their approbation of the Hospital by the number of patients they have sent. We are much indebted to Dr. E.W. Phifer, who has most kindly acted as resident physician.”

James Jackson Kirksey, born on Jan. 18, 1893, in McDowell County, N.C., joins the staff at Grace Hospital. His family moved to Morganton in 1905, and
his father opened a general
store. Dr. Kirksey received his undergraduate degree from
University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill and his medical
degree from the University
of Pennsylvania School of
Medicine. He did his internship
at Bellevue Hospital in New
York City as well as post-
graduate work there at the
Willard Parker Hospital and
at Walter Reed Hospital in
Washington, D.C.

In 1918, during World War I, Dr. Kirksey served in the Army Medical Corps. In 1922, Dr. Jim, as he was known, returned to Morganton to begin private practice. He and Dr. W.H. Kibler opened the first practices in the area centered more on well-organized, well-equipped offices rather than house calls. With the improvement in roads and cars, more sophisticated medical equipment and an increase in industrial accidents, the trend toward office visits and hospital care had begun. Dr. Kirksey practiced medicine for more than 30 years. During that time he served his turn as Chief of Staff at Grace Hospital.

On Nov. 24, 1925, Dr. Kirksey married Dorothy Alderman of Wagram, N.C. They had two daughters: Dorothy Alderman Kirksey and Anne Frances Kirksey (Ervin). Dr. Kirksey died of a heart attack on May 16, 1953, as he was leaving his office at the end of his workday. Dr. Kirksey’s nephew, Jackson (Jack) Bristol Kirksey, served on the Grace Hospital Board of Directors.

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$126.00 - That is equivalent to $1,652.82 in 2015.

Cyrus Leslie Walton was born on March 21, 1901, in Jacksonville, N.C. He graduated from North Carolina State College with a BS and, after teaching vocational agriculture for three years, enrolled at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. He received his MD in 1931 and moved to Glen Alpine to
practice medicine in 1932. At the outbreak of World War II, he joined the Army Medical Corp. He served in England, France and Belgium always as Chief of Medical Services. In England, Dr. Walton set up the
hospital in Southampton that
received the first casualties after D-Day. A thousand or more soldiers arrived every day. John Henry Giles, MD, a surgeon at Grace Hospital and a Glen Alpine native, often told the story of how Dr. Walton’s instincts and country-boy good sense were better than those of the best physicians available in Chapel Hill. UNC football great Jim Tatum and Glen Alpine High School football coach Ralph “Jug” Wilson both contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but due to Dr. Walton’s diligence, Coach Wilson lived. Unfortunately, Chapel Hill doctors failed to diagnose Tatum in time and he died at the young age of 46 in 1959.

Dr. Walton married Anna Warren Lawrence of Granville, N.C., in 1925. The couple had three children: Cyrus Leslie Walton, Jr., Eleanor W. Walton and Mary C. Walton. After his first wife’s death in 1958, Dr. Walton remarried to Loma Lail. Dr. Walton died in 1971.

Edith Adele Goodwin-Barbour, was born Sept. 12, 1904, in Morganton. She was Morganton’s first professional female doctor,
and joined the staff at Grace
Hospital in 1934. In addition
to her practice, she taught
obstetrics at Grace Hospital
School of Nursing and served as county physician during World War II. She was the fourth and youngest daughter of Edward and Maude Goodwin, who came to Morganton to establish the North Carolina School for the Deaf. Dr. Barbour graduated from the Women’s College at Greensboro and received her MD from the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia in 1932. After an internship at LA County General Hospital in Los Angeles, Calif., she returned to open her practice in Morganton in 1934.

In 1938, she married Jesse Otho Barbour. The couple had three children. Dr. Barbour died on Feb.10, 1987.

John Witherspoon Ervin, a younger brother to Sen. Sam J. Ervin, was born in Morganton on April 29, 1906. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1928. He attended Wake Forest University, where he
earned a B.S. in Medicine in
1931 then Medical College of
Virginia, where he received
his medical degree in 1933.
After an internship at General
Hospital in Worcester, Mass.,
from 1933-1936, he returned to Morganton where he practiced
general medicine. He retired
from private practice in 1955
to join the medical staff at
Broughton Hospital.

Dr. Ervin married Dorothy
Caldwell Downes in
Washington, D.C., in 1933.

They had two children: Dorothy Kimball Ervin and John Witherspoon Ervin. Dr. Ervin died on March 27, 1973.

Beverly Dew Hairfield was born on Dec. 28, 1912, in Morganton. He graduated from Wake Forest University and received his MD from Vanderbilt University Medical
School in 1939. He interned
at University of Virginia
Hospital but his training was interrupted by World War II.
Dr. Hairfield served in North
Africa and Italy for three years.
At the end of the war, he
completed his hospital training
at Baptist Hospital in Winston
Salem, N.C., and returned to Morganton to begin his surgery practice.

Dr. Hairfield served a term as president of the North Carolina Surgical Association. He served on the Grace Hospital Board of Directors and a term as Medical Chief of Staff.

In 1949, Dr. Hairfield married Elizabeth Sue Gaston, daughter of J. Henry Gaston who served on Grace Hospital’s first board of directors. Mrs. Hairfield also served on the hospital’s board.
The Hairfields had three children: Beverly Dew Hairfield, Jr., Frances Taylor Hairfield, and Nancy Lassiter Hairfield (Sharp). Dr. Hairfield died on July 8, 1995.

Grace Hospital opens its first Department of Radiology, made possible by the generosity of the Duke Endowment, Arthur Chaffee and Mary Kistler. Mrs. Kistler gave 100 mgms of radium, together with all the necessary accessories for its application, as a memorial to her husband, Andrew Kistler.

Mrs. Mary Kistler donates money to make it possible for Grace Hospital to open a new and separate department of pediatrics. She served on the board of trustees for many years and gave generously to the hospital. She also served in the volunteer auxiliary.

The Department of Pathology is established. Dr. John Cochrane Reece served for more than three decades as the full-time director of Laboratory and Pathology Departments.

Dr. Beverly Hairfield joins Dr. Edward Phifer, Jr. on staff of Grace Hospital in 1949. Together, they usher in an era of new and exciting technology with additions to operating rooms, dressing rooms, anesthesia and using medical breakthroughs in surgery. The two doctors were instrumental in the change from linen drapes to disposable drapes in the 1970s.


“One night, during third shift on second floor, I was making rounds. We took flashlights and checked out patients at least every two hours to be sure they were having no problems One of my patients, an elderly gentleman, was not breathing
(older people sometimes do this). I stood, waiting for him to catch his breath and when he didn’t for 90 seconds, I reached over and pressed his upper abdomen. He came awake and yelled ‘she punched me in the belly.’”

Grace Hospital has staffed some of the finest surgeons for a hundred years. Sardar Shah-Khan, MD, performed the first pacemaker implants in the early 1970s. John Giles, MD, and Sae Soon Lee, MD, were resident surgeons in the 1970s, and were the first ever at Grace to perform aorta grafts and bypass surgery including arteriograms and vascular surgery.

Larry Anderson, MD, joins staff as first orthopedic surgeon. John H. Giles, MD, performs the first hip prosthesis at the new Grace Hospital on his grandmother, Ida, with the assistance of Hugo DeLuca, MD, of New Jersey.

On April 1, 1984, a new laboratory is dedicated and named in memory of Dr. John Reece.

Intensive Care Unit on fifth floor is renamed Dr. James R. Collett Critical Care Unit. Dr. Collett began the first critical care unit at Grace in 1964.

Pathology services at Grace and Valdese are consolidated into one unit. Grace Hospital opens Level II Neonatal Nursery, an intensive care unit for newborns.

The 3,000-square-foot fixed cardiac catheterization lab opens. The community previously relied on a mobile cath lab that only operated a few days of the week. The procedure determines whether a patient has coronary artery disease.

Pulmonary services are added because of high incidences of lung-related diseases in Burke County. Pulmonologists are physicians who specialize in treating disease of the lungs and respiratory tract. Also, Blue Ridge begins a hospitalist service where physicians, dedicated solely to caring for hospitalized patients, are on duty 24/7.

Physicians and hospitals begin moving toward electronic patient records, and Blue Ridge invests in new technology and computer infrastructure. Many physicians had already been using hand-held devices (called personal digital assistants or PDAs) to record notes.

A vascular/interventional suite opens and Blue Ridge HealthCare partners with the prestigious Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute in Charlotte to open an office in the new Medical Office Building in Morganton.

For the first time, Burke County has two kidney specialists on the medical staff as the hospital opens a nephrology service.

After years of acquiring physician practices, Blue Ridge HealthCare officially forms Blue Ridge Medical Group as its own entity. Grace Hospital also begins offering neurology services.

Though always considered a place to learn, Grace Hospital officially became an academic medical institution in 2011 when Blue Ridge HealthCare began the Graduate Medical Education (GME) residency training program for osteopathic medicine. The Duke Endowment awarded a $1.2 million grant to start the program. With this residency program came an influx of physicians who have the
initials D.O. after their name instead of M.D.

Joseph Mazzola, DO, becomes the first-ever Director of Medical Education at Grace. The residents are able to take two training paths – family medicine or internal medicine. The first class graduated in June 2014. In 2013, GME launched a gastroenterology fellowship program.

Dr. Phifer Set the Standard for Those Following in His Footsteps

Edward William Phifer was born in Lincolnton, N.C., on Sept. 12, 1876. In 1887, his family moved to Burke County when his father became treasurer of North Carolina School for the Deaf.

Dr. Phifer was educated at Davidson College and North Carolina Medical College with further studies at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

The Hughsons were searching for a physician to collaborate with them in “building an institution of medical service and mercy.

They selected Edward William Phifer, MD, a young man whom they considered of high character and pure motives, and a clear idea of service to humanity.”

Dr. Phifer returned to Morganton to practice medicine and became the first chief of staff at Grace Hospital when it opened in 1906, a position he held until his death in 1939.
The Hughsons made no mistake, for Dr. Phifer “caught the spirit of the undertaking and served as its leader for the rest of his life, and made his talents and ability a blessing to thousands of people in his long career.”

Dr. Phifer also served as President of the Grace Hospital Board of Trustees and medical director. He taught anatomy and other clinical classes at the Grace Hospital School of Nursing, and prompted the administration to provide more clinical education and to follow state and national accreditation standards.

In addition to his medical practice, Dr. Phifer was deeply involved in the life of his community. His business interests included serving as President of the Board of Directors of Morganton Hosiery Mills, Vice President and Director of Alpine Cotton Mill and Director of Table Rock Furniture Company (which later merged with Drexel Furniture Company), Morganton Building and Loan and Ross Fabrics Inc. He was an elder of the First Presbyterian Church.

In 1909, Dr. Phifer married Susan Elizabeth Presnell and they had two sons, Edward (Ned) William Phifer Jr. and Robert Presnell Phifer. Both boys followed in their father’s footsteps in their devotion to Grace Hospital.

Dr. Ned Phifer trained as a surgeon and returned to practice medicine in Burke County. As his father had, he served the hospital in numerous capacities including chief of staff, chief of surgical services and President of Burke County Medical Society. Robert Phifer served on the Grace Hospital Board of Trustees, for many years as Chairman of the Board, from 1939 until his death in 1972. He was 62.

His eulogy stated: “He held firm to the high ideals that Grace Hospital should live for service to humanity, should never turn away anyone asking for help if that help could be supplied, should not go into debt, and should keep its contact with the Divine by daily prayers. Never, at any time, did he lose sight of its original conception as an institution for the care of the sick and needy of Burke County.”

Dr. Phifer’s grandchildren continued the family tradition of service to Grace Hospital. Ned’s son, Edward William Phifer III, served on the Grace Hospital Board of Directors and Rob’s daughter, Catherine Elizabeth Phifer (Belton), served on the Grace Hospital Foundation Board and spearheaded the creation of the Phifer garden in memory of her parents.
All seven surviving grandchildren took a leadership role in the construction of the Phifer Wellness Center.

First Surgeon Hailed from Bridgewater

Joseph Bennett Riddle was born in Yancey County on Sept. 17, 1870. He attended Washington College in Tennessee where he earned a BS degree. In 1889, he graduated second in his class at Vanderbilt University with an MD degree.

In 1899, Dr. Riddle moved to Bridgewater, his mother’s hometown, located on U.S. 70 West, more than 10 miles from Morganton. He traveled on foot or horseback to his patients, and his fee was commonly 50 cents. After completing a course in surgery at Richmond Medical School in Virginia in 1907, Dr. Riddle moved his family to Morganton to be closer to Grace Hospital where he practiced until his death.

Dr. Riddle, Dr. Edward Phifer and Dr. Charles Ellis Ross were Grace Hospital’s first doctors, and Dr. Riddle was the first surgeon. He served as chief of staff and was a trustee of Grace Hospital. He also served for a time as county physician and coroner and president of the Burke County Medical Association.

Dr. Riddle was dedicated to his patients. While on his way to attend a woman in childbirth one night in 1917, he was in a serious car wreck and lay trapped under his car for two hours. When rescued, he insisted on being taken to his patient first before being admitted to Grace Hospital where he remained in serious condition for some days.

In addition to his work in the medical community, Dr. Riddle served on the board of trustees of the Morganton Building and Loan Association, Morganton Industrial Band and Morganton Full Fashion Hosiery Mill. He was a deacon at First Baptist Church in Morganton. He was also the county coroner from 1922-1926.

After Dr. Phifer’s death, Dr. Riddle became chief of staff, and continued an active medical practice until his last years.

Dr. Riddle married Leonora Jane Ray and they had three children; Georgia Ray Riddle, Joseph Bennett Riddle II and Kathleen McRae Riddle (Kerr). Dr. Riddle died on Jan. 1, 1947.

Dr. Ross One of First to Buy Car for House Calls

Charles Ellis Ross was born on June 30, 1861, in the Steele Creek community of Mecklenburg County outside Charlotte, N.C. His father was a casualty of the Civil War. He received his MD from the University of Maryland in 1888 and did postgraduate work at Johns Hopkins and in New York.

Dr. Ross practiced in Belmont, N.C., before moving to Morganton in 1880 to work at Broughton Hospital. He and Dr. Isaac Montrose Taylor were the two physicians on staff and lived in apartments at the hospital. There he met a young nurse, Kate Lenoir Chamber, and they were married in 1891. In 1903, he resigned from Broughton and opened a practice in Morganton. Much of Dr. Ross’s practice was conducted by house call, visiting his patients on horseback or in a buggy. In 1910, he was one of the first doctors in the area to purchase an automobile for his work. In addition to his medical practice, Dr. Ross partnered with pharmacist C.P. Greyer to open the Burke Drug Company which was later sold to Cornwell Drug Company. He was appointed physician for the North Carolina School for the Deaf and served a term as Burke County Coroner.

Dr. Ross and his wife were the parents of four children: Katharine Adelaide Ross, Martha Grier Ross, Charles Hill Ross and Robert Alexander Ross, who became a doctor and noted teacher.
Dr. Ross died in 1915.

From Street Car Driver to Doctor, Dr. Kibler Served 50 Years

William Herbert Kibler was born in Burke County in 1884. He graduated in 1906 from the University of North Carolina where he worked as an assistant in zoology during his college years.

After working as a teacher at Durham High School, a biology teacher at Guilford College, a street car conductor and a shoe salesman, he enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania from which he received his MD in 1914.

Upon his graduation, Dr. Kibler participated in research for the Rockefeller Foundation in Dutch Guiana in South America. Returning to the United States, he practiced medicine in Sevier, N.C., and served as county health officer for the North Carolina Board of Health in Nash County before moving back to Burke County.

In 1923, Dr. Kibler opened his practice in Morganton where he served his patients for 50 years. Through those years, he took a variety of postgraduate courses including classes at Harvard, Cook County Hospital in Chicago and New York Polytechnical Institute.

Dr. Kibler was a member of the Burke County Board of Health from its inception in 1937 until 1973, Chairman of the Extension Division of the University of North Carolina Medical School for Burke County and surrounding counties for 20 years, served two terms as Grace Hospital chief of staff and taught anatomy to nurses in training at Grace Hospital.

In addition, he was president of the Ninth District Medical Society, and for four years, was a member of the North Carolina Hospital Board of Controls. Dr. Kibler was honored as Burke County Physician of the Year in 1956, Morganton Man of the Year in 1959 and General Practitioner of the Year for North Carolina in 1956.

In addition to his medical work, Dr. Kibler was active in the community particularly in his church, First Methodist Church of Morganton, where he served as a life member of the board of stewards. He was Chairman of the Health Committee of the Chamber of Commerce that led the movement to obtain meat inspection in Burke County and served as President of the Morganton Rotary Club.

Dr. Kibler married Lucy Cornelia Bassett of Fort Valle, Ga., on Aug. 9, 1926. They had two daughters: Lucy Maud Kibler and Flora Louise Kibler (Luckhardt).
Dr. Kibler died on Feb. 25, 1975.

Grace Opens Departmentof Radiology

Luther William Fred Oehlbeck was born on June 25, 1899, in Clarkson, N.Y. He attended Hobart College in New York and finished his premedical training at Emory University in Georgia in 1926.

In 1930, he earned his MD degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine in N.Y. Dr. Oehlbeck was awarded a National Council of Research Fellowship in 1930 to conduct research in pathology. In 1931 he received a second National Council of Research Fellowship for research in roentgenology, named for Wilhelm Roentgen, who discovered X-rays. During the time of his fellowships, he served as Associate Resident in Pathology and Associate Resident in Radiology at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y. He taught radiology at the Rochester Medical School from 1932-1938 while also practicing medicine at Clifton Springs Sanatorium and Clinic. Dr. Oehlbeck and his wife moved to Kinston, N.C. in 1938, where he was the radiologist at Memorial General Hospital.

In 1940, Grace Hospital opened its first Department of Radiology, made possible by the generosity of the Duke Endowment, Arthur Chaffee and Mary Kistler. Mrs. Kistler gave 100 mgms of radium, together with all the necessary accessories for its application, as a memorial to her husband, Andrew Kistler. Dr. Oehlbeck accepted the position of chief of Radiology at Grace Hospital’s newly established department.

Dr. Oehlbeck married Avis Josephine Johnson in 1923 and the couple had two children: Luther William Fred Oehlbeck Jr., who became a pathologist and taught at UNC School of Medicine, and Avis Ann Oehlbeck. Dr. Oehlbeck died on April 14, 1980.