Family Doctor, 85,
Birthday at Reunion
A tall, lean Arkansan who covered a 12-mile radius as a family doctor in
the horse and buggy days, celebrated two events the past week, his 85th
birthday and his 60th wedding anniversary, which happened both to fall on
The real celebration for Dr. and Mrs. J.L. Roberts of 221 West Sunset
arrived when their family joined them in a reunion Saturday. The 85 years
spent since he first saw the light of day three miles above Murfreesboro on
the Little Missouri River, were full of challenge, hard times and finally
success. He spans the era of the first power loom in Arkansas down to the
present mechanical and atomic age and the same energetic mentality that
sent him through school at an advanced age, keeps him occupied with current
events. In short, Dr. Roberts keeps his ears tuned to state and national
events, while he keeps the family home running.
His grandmother was a cousin to Jefferson Davis, president of the
Confederacy, and his father was a veteran in the ranks of the gray who
moved from Georgia to Arkansas and set up the first power loom, the old
Matlock factory in Pike county. Arthritis made an invalid of his father and
some of the family burden fell upon the willing and able shoulders of a man
destined to be a physician. Dr. Roberts sat through the short school
sessions, which were halted to allow for plowing the cotton fields, pulling
the fodder (they didnít mow it in those days) and making the sorghum crop.
The late J.C. Penix of Murfressboro was his first teacher.
Taught by Penix
"There was no foolishness with Mr. Penix, no ball playing, we worked,"
recalls Dr. Roberts of his tutoring under a man who later became lieutenant
governor of Arkansas. The schooling came when he was nearly grown and Dr.
Roberts recalls that he cut an odd figure with the younger children,
wearing his homemade shoes, socks, trousers and shirt, and skipping the
social activities to get in his book work. He taught school at Brocktown,
his old alma mater, and worked for $13 a month, but got only $10 in cash.
The classroom work was not all he did. He worked the farms and forests and
mills when the work was done by the sun, not the clock. "I spent many a day
in the saw mill for 75 cents," he remembers. He enrolled in medical school
at Little Rock but got a county license to practice medicine after his
first year. Marriage and medical study were part of the routine, but he
also farmed and taught school. His wife, who is now a semi-invalid, carried
the burden nobly while her husband studied medicine. She took care of the
children, the livestock, the crops and the house while I was in school.
Remembering this devotion makes today a bit easier while he fixes her
breakfast and tidies up the house. And one special memento of this day is a
school bell, the same one he used at the old Brocktown school, which now
summons Mrs. Roberts to her meals. He practiced his early days in Nathan
and Murfreesboro, and the last 25 of his 52 years as a family doctor were
spent in Nashville. He retired in 1950. When Dr. Roberts came to Nashville
in 1924, there were already seven doctors, caring for the town folks and
making horseback or buggy trips out to the cotton plantations and up into
the hills. The doctors here then were Doctors Toland, Dildy, Hopkins, Holt,
Gibson, Hutchinson, and Simpson, and all have passed on.
He bought his first car when he was still a Pike county resident, and this
is his recollection of that reknowned vehicle. "I was the first doctor in
Pike County to buy an automobile, a 1914 cranking Ford touring car. It had
carbide headlights and coal oil parking and tail lights. There were no
filling stations nor mechanics then. I kept up my car myself, by the
instructions that came with it. I have put in new rings, pistons and drive
shaft pinions. I couldnít drive this car during the winter. We had no
graded roads, no graveled roads. When Summer came and it was dry I would
bump along over the holes and ditches in the roads and felt like I was
flying at 20 miles per hour. If I met a wagon I would have to stop my motor
and get out and stand by it until they could get the team by. This was the
life of an old time country doctor. Iím glad that the doctors of today
donít have ot go through what we older men did." Dr. Roberts stays quite
active these days. He mows the lawn and keeps the house, reads his papers
and watches TV. He has a keen interest in politics, and although his
background is Democrat extending back to the familyís Confederate
relations, he says he broke with President Roosevelt because of the New
Deal. He recalls the old Roman senatorís warning, that when a nation begins
taking care its people, it is in the last stages of decay. In his opinion
Arkansas has had some good governors in McRae, Donaghey, and Futrell, and
Cherry made only a few mistakes. Otherwise the recent governors have been
two by four politicians. He washes his hands of Democratic candidates for
president, although he votes the party ticket on the state level. As for
national candidates, "we have nothing to say about who the candidates will
The Family Comes
The big day in their lives is reunion with their children. That was the way
it was Saturday when Frank and Bill and Mrs. Frank Day came from Little
Rock and Mrs. J.S. Lavender, Sr., came from Shreveport, accompanied by two
grandchildren, John Scott Lavender, Jr., and Edna Ann Lavender, and a great
grandson, John Scott Lavender, III.
Newspaper article, source not identified. Provided by Keith Lavender,
Helena, Montana email 02 Mar 2000.
Update 03.19.01 David Kelley 2000 BIO-0129.HTM