Published on Monday, June 11, 2018
Media Contact: Ruth Cummins
Dr. Rick deShazo hit Mississippi Public Broadcasting in 2005 by storm.
Hurricane Katrina had devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “There were no doctors left there, so we started a first aid clinic on the air,” said deShazo, the University of Mississippi Medical Center's Billy S. Guyton Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics.
That spawned the original “Southern Remedy” show on MPB. It first aired Sept. 7, 2005, and its first hosts were deShazo and veteran broadcast journalist Gene Edwards. Edwards departed the show in 2008.
For almost 13 years, deShazo has been at the helm of the station’s flagship wellness program – so in demand that the decision was made in August 2014 to add four more hosts representing different medical topics and expand to five days a week.
Last Wednesday, deShazo recorded his final show. He’s retiring this summer to Birmingham, Ala., his new base for traveling to visit six grandchildren scattered between there, Nashville and Mobile.
But from 11 a.m.-noon, he did what he does so well. He answered questions, not on wounds from rusty nails or snakes encountered in hurricane debris, but general maladies impacting the health of Mississippians: tobacco allergies. Rapid heartbeat. Relief for back pain. Digestive issues such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
As he’s always done, deShazo expressed his concern for callers’ health literacy and individual needs through imparting good information, or through good-natured bluntness designed to get their attention.
“The most common cause of GERD in this country is a fat stomach,” he told Linda from Ocean Springs, who copes with acid indigestion.
As MPB digital media strategist Ellie Banks used her cellphone to live-stream the last broadcast on Facebook, deShazo took his seat in the cozy studio at MPB headquarters, located on the grounds of the Education and Research Center in Jackson. The table was lined with microphones, one zeroing in on deShazo’s mouth. A large electronic board on a wall displayed the first names of callers, their city, and a word or two about the nature of their call.
He opened the show on, for many of his listeners and fans, a sad note: “This is my last ‘Southern Remedy,’” he said.
“Maggie from Como, Mississippi, just wished you a happy retirement, Dr. Rick,” Banks read from the Facebook feed.
One of the reasons deShazo has been so relatable and comforting to callers is his knack for speaking their language and creating mental images that make sense.
Some examples from his last show:
“Anybody who knows Dr. deShazo will agree: What the program will be losing on Wednesdays is his presence,” said Dr. Jimmy Stewart, professor of medicine and the current host of the Thursday “Southern Remedy: Kids and Teens.” Stewart will be replacing deShazo on Wednesdays, and his replacement is in the works.
Sometimes, you just didn’t know what to expect on deShazo’s show, Stewart remembered. “The first time I went on the show with him as a guest, he kept giving me hand signals. Depending on the situation, sometimes a hand signal meant him talking, and sometimes a hand signal meant for me to wrap it up. It was up to me to determine what the signals meant – what his code was.”
“Southern Remedy” has endured and inspired through the years, “and it has everything to do with Dr. Rick’s personality,” said Jason Klein, MPB’s director of radio. “There are hundreds of doctors to choose from, but it was this guy who made the difference.
“He came at medical situations with empathy, and he sounded like someone you’d talk to – like the guy down the street. He made it easy for you,” Klein said. “He was probably the most accessible doctor you could ever hear on the radio.”
Stewart said he has no plans to change the format that has worked so well on deShazo’s show. “’Southern Remedy’ is a great outreach to the state,” Stewart said. “The cornerstone is being able to call in on anything and everything. We will stick with the formula. It’s directly connected to the listeners.”
“Southern Remedy” took a lot of its personality from deShazo, Klein said. “That personality will always be there as a tip of the hat to Dr. Rick,” he said. “However, each show is really about the mission and what we’re trying to do, which is inform Mississippians on health care. It will find a new tone that sounds just like Jimmy.”
What he’ll miss the most, deShazo said, is “the opportunity to visit on the phone with people from Mississippi, Alabama and lots of other places outside of our state who call in.
“I am most happy that we have received emails and other communications demonstrating that the information provided by our hosts has in fact been life-saving in a number of cases, and life-changing in many others.”
Interspersed in deShazo’s last show were words of thanks to the listeners who faithfully followed him.
“I’m old enough now that I need a break. I’m a geriatric geriatrician,” he laughed. “They don’t make many of those anymore. I’m 73. I know I look about 25 because of my close relationship with plastic surgeons at UMMC.”
In Birmingham, deShazo will lend his talents to Alabama Public Broadcasting and hopes to volunteer as a teacher at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. “I’m not going to open a practice,” he said.
He’s actually going home. “In the late 1600s, our family settled an area around the Cahaba River,” deShazo said. “They were French Huguenots and got kicked out of France. My great-grandfather taught school in Kosciusko before the Civil War and was sheriff of Shelby County after the war. He was a captain from Alabama in the Battle of Vicksburg, so the deShazos of Alabama have a long connection with the folks in Mississippi.”
It was a bittersweet signoff Wednesday at the stroke of noon.
“I hate to go back to my spawning ground, but that’s what tadpoles do,” deShazo said. “I’ll be listening, like you, every week at 11 o’clock.
“Bye bye, everybody! See you soon!”
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