NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Mississippi Medicine, the semi-annual alumni magazine for the School of Medicine. A PDF of that issue can be found here.
For as long as Katrina Poe can remember, her hometown had a doctor - Dr. L.C. Henson, who delivered her.
He was there for her when she was born; she would be there for him when he died.
He was her family's doctor, and she became his - and just about everybody else's in town - a career choice inspired by Henson and, ironically, by her mother Bessie Poe.
Kilmichael - “The Town that Cares” - is the kind of place that desperately needs physicians who care, but also the kind that usually has trouble attracting or churning them out, and maybe that's why no one could blame Bessie Poe for her response to her 10-year-old daughter the day she announced she was going to be one.
“Oh, girl, just sit down somewhere,” Bessie Poe told her.
But she didn't sit down, and she didn't sit on her dream, because, even then, 35 years ago, few people cared more about Kilmichael than did Katrina Poe.
One day, as a doctor, she would help save the town's hospital and, as a daughter, the life of her mother.
'I told you, didn't I?'
Putting a child through medical school had seemed beyond the family's means when 10-year-old Katrina had announced her intentions, Bessie Poe said.
“Back then, it was hard. We didn't have money or nothing. We were just factory workers.”
Besides, the town had never had an African-American physician.
Eventually, the factory where the Poes worked, Steel Apparel, closed and moved away. James Poe found a new job at an air conditioner manufacturing plant in Grenada, about 40 miles distant.
Before that, even Katrina worked at the factory in the hours after school, cutting material and doing inspections. She and her sister Cheryl Poe, who is earning her RN degree, learned the value of work.
“My husband used to plant peas for them, and they would pick them, and he would take them around town so they could sell them to different people,” Bessie Poe said.
“He told both of them, 'I want you to learn how to do something for yourself. Because if you get an old lazy man for a husband, you will be able to take care of yourself.'”