This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.
Years ago, if you were a daughter of a small-town doctor, you knew you’d better not step out of line.
“You might not know who this person was, but you didn’t do anything wrong, because it got back to Daddy before you knew it,” said Elizabeth Hickman Hage — and she should know.
Hage’s father is the late Dr. Harry Hickman, Caldwell County’s first pediatrician.
When Hage was growing up, Hickman was the only pediatrician in the county.
By the time Maria Hickman Moore — the youngest of Hickman’s six children — came along, there were more. But Moore still had to watch her step.
“All my life, I’ve had strangers come up to me and I don’t even know who they are,” Moore said, “and they say, ‘You must be Dr. Hickman’s daughter.’”
Hickman was a product of Caldwell, through and through: He was from Hudson and was the valedictorian of his class at Hudson High School.
His children remember him as soft-spoken and hard-working, a man who didn’t get bent out of shape about small things.
“I very rarely ever saw him angry – or display it, anyway,” Hage said. “He seldom displayed it. But if he was angry, then you would know it, even though he didn’t lash out or raise a ruckus or anything like that.”
Hickman rarely had time off. He got up most mornings, went to the hospital to do his rounds, then came home to eat breakfast and take his kids to school.
He kept office hours on Saturdays and was on call every other Sunday, and he got calls at all hours of the day and night.
“I can remember neighborhood kids on the kitchen counters being sewed up, or with nosebleeds or something like that,” Moore said. “I can remember neighborhood kids having throat cultures in our refrigerator.”
During the polio epidemic, Moore said, Hickman came home after long days and slept in the basement so he wouldn’t infect his kids.
Hickman’s father was a doctor in Caldwell County, too, and Hickman often went with him on house calls. He learned to drive on those house calls – in reverse, because that was the lowest gear, and they often needed it to get up steep, hilly driveways.
Hickman was a man of many interests, his children said. He loved classical music – he played in the Hudson High School band – and he collected everything: stamps, commemorative plates, antique clocks.
“He was a collector of collections,” Hage said. “He had hobbies, and he would collect things and go into it whole-hog, and then he would go and sort of put it on the back shelf and go into the next collection.”
The one hobby that lasted was photography, because it helped him document all the others.
In Hage’s favorite photo of her father, he has three cameras slung around his neck.
Like many country doctors, Hickman often accepted payment in whatever form his patients could manage.
“If you couldn’t afford to pay him, well, you know, bring him a cake or a bushel of beans,” Hage said.
Hickman died in 2005, and now people approach Moore and Hague to say how much they miss him.
He’ll be inducted into the Caldwell County Schools Hall of Honor this year – an accolade Hage said is well-deserved.
“He spent his life tending to the children of Caldwell County,” she said. “He doctored three generations of kids.”