The Good Country Doctor

April 1, 2015 | By More

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There’s a Rockwellian feel to the office even before Dr. William W. Galloway folds his six foot six inch frame into a parlor chair across from me. The mustache covers his upper lip, but it doesn’t hide his smile. Tall, lanky, a mustache and an easy smile. Dr. Galloway completes the illusion that I’m sitting in a Norman Rockwell painting. And then he speaks.

He doesn’t speak like a doctor. Instead, his voice and dialect remind me of so many other men of his generation here in the River Valley and southern Ozarks. A unique pronunciation of certain words and a distinct nod to growing up rural. Dr. Galloway is, of course, an educated and distinguished man. He received his medical license in 1972 after attending Arkansas Teacher’s College (now known as U.C.A) and medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He did his internship at St. John’s Medical Center in Tulsa, and his residency at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Dr. Galloway’s association memberships in the medical field are numerous and longstanding: Advisory Council of the American Academy of Dermatology, Arkansas Medical Society Trustee, Arkansas Medical Society Vice-Speaker of the House, president of the Arkansas Medical Society, Arkansas Rural Medical Practice Board and many more. He’s been a doctor for forty three years and yet, that rural upbringing and sense of humility still shines through in his voice. No pretense whatsoever. Sincerity is so refreshing.

He doesn’t look sixty-nine years of age. I tell him this and ask if he feels it. “I am, I am feeling sixty-nine,” said Galloway. “And I’m taken aback by the modern world. Who wouldn’t be? The way technology is going at such a blinding speed, you can’t tell where we’ll be in the five years let alone the next twenty.”

There it is, folks. If you can’t see where this story is going after that last paragraph please read it again. The world is indeed rocketing along at the speed of a Tweet and what’s new changes as fast as a Kardashian changes husbands. You’re not the only one to think so. But this story is the antithesis to the hustle of our modern world. It’s the story of a man born and bred here in the River Valley finding reasons to stay. It’s the story of the son of a nurse and a barber who grew up in 1950s Clarksville, Arkansas. “We had a wonderful time in the small town of Clarksville,” said Galloway. “There was only one row of houses between us and Arkansas River, and that was about three miles away. So I could take a shotgun, walk across the street and hunt quail in the afternoons. It was wonderland for a child to grow up in.”

We could go through the timeline of his life, the golden afternoons of his boyhood wandering the woods across from a local creek. His football career in high school and college, and his decision to pursue dermatology as his medical specialty, but all you really need to understand is how this history molded the man. It’s the story of a man who values community and the simple pleasures in life. Here’s an example when I asked why he chose Russellville instead of  a bigger market. “My hobby was paddling whitewater in all these creeks around here. I was really into it, and this is the jumping off point for all that,” said Galloway. “Judy, my wife, is still mad at me for not staying in Little Rock. It probably wasn’t a very wise economic move.” I tell him that money isn’t the most important thing anyway. “I don’t think so either,” said Galloway.

The love of wild water and wild land is a testament to his rural upbringing, and even as he nears seven decades of life it hasn’t diminished. Galloway mentions Richland Creek in Newton and Searcy Counties as one of his favorites, and this leads to a discussion about some rugged terrain in that area that I enjoy exploring. Galloway, nearly thirty years my senior, has recently been exploring this same country,  hiking uphill in terrain that would give a billy goat pause.

As we talk about the creeks and the mountains, Galloway reminisces about the source for this passion. It was his father that introduced him to the creeks.  “We didn’t go anywhere [out of state] on vacation. We’d go to Piney [Creek] when I was a kid,” said Galloway. “We’d go to Long Pool. We had a ’48 Chevrolet, and we  could just barely get it up the road. We’d camp out there for a week or ten days and never see a soul.”

Holding on to heritage runs into the material as well as the abstract for Galloway. His office on West Main in Russellville fits well with his personality. It’s an old house refurnished and repurposed for his practice, and its future is a concern to Galloway. “We’re concerned that someone will tear it down and haul it off in a dump truck the first time we turn our backs,” said Galloway. “One of the things we’re going to do in our retirement is take care of this old place, and try to find a good caretaker to see it into the future.”

I guess I didn’t mention Galloway’s retirement. Yes, he’s retiring after all these years in medicine. “You know you reach a point where you quit doing better and better and start doing worse and worse,” said Galloway. “I’ve been at the top of my game for a long time, and I still am, but I don’t want to get started down the other road.”

And what part of retirement is Galloway looking forward to the most? “Not having to go to work everyday,” he said with a chuckle.

Work tends to get in the way of other interests. Now, with retirement planned for the same week as his seventieth birthday (April 7), Galloway looks forward to pursuing those other interests. And there are many other interests that need pursuing. “I’ve got lots of things to keep me busy,” said Galloway.

In addition to a medical profession and exploring the mountains, Galloway has owned a sixty-two acre farm that is home to a unique breed of cattle for more than twenty years. They’re called Belted Galloway, but there is no family connection. “I’ve got a lot of time and money invested in them, not sure if it was a wise investment, but I want to spend some more time messing with them.”

Cattle and more experiences in the mountains will be competing for his time with an interest in old-time music, a style of music similar to but predating blue grass. “I’m going to do a better job of taking care of my cows, a better job of taking care of my toys and I’m going to learn to play the fiddle,” said Galloway. He’s actually been playing fiddle for a while as well as the banjo and mandolin. “But now I’ll have time to get better,” said Galloway.

Looking at the field  of medicine, where it was when he started, it’s present condition and what the future holds, Galloway has some opinions about the current model and how it’s changed over the years. “There are all sorts of potentials for abuse,” said Galloway. “Both underutilization, because you can’t get paid for it, and over-utilization, doing way more than needs to be done, because you can get paid for it. There needs to be one party that has one thing, and one thing only, in mind, and that’s how well the patient is getting along. I still like medicine, I just don’t like the venue they’ve created. It’s all about money. It’s not about how people get along.”

The complete picture of the man comes together as you look at his past, his practice and his retirement. Finances were not his focus, but a comfortable living resulted from his excellent care of patients.  Prestige was not his focus, but it found him due to impeccable character. He settled in an area where he could easily access his passions. Galloway chose a life focused on the intangibles, things that are hard to put a price on.

“Well economics is playing way too big a role on our lives,” said Galloway. “The way it’s played out in the last decade or so is ugly, and that philosophy has permeated everything. It’s all about money and how to optimize. The right thing to do, consideration for your fellow man, any observation of the Golden Rule seems to have vanished in modern culture. It’s really bad that things have gone like that.”

Some would consider Dr. Galloway a throwback. The rural doctor – well educated, consummate professional, a heart for his patients and still just as country as sausage gravy. One of the last remnants of simpler times. But I think of him as a treasure. A place of safekeeping for the values that shaped many of us today.

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