Morton physician, community stalwart continues service at 91
Published on Monday, August 13, 2018
By: Amanda Markow
Walk into Mississippi Care Center of Morton, a nursing home facility, any day of the week, and you’ll likely find Dr. Howard Clark jovially visiting with the residents. They refer to him as their doctor, and even though he retired* just last year at 90-years-old, they’re not incorrect. For many of the patients he’s talking with, he was their doctor (and sometimes the only doctor in Morton) for most of their lives.
Clark earned his medical certificate at the University of Mississippi and then his M.D. at Tulane University before doing a one-year rotating internship in 1955 at the newly opened University of Mississippi Medical Center. He has been an instrumental figure in the health care of the Morton community since he opened Clark Clinic the following year. He also helped establish Scott Regional Hospital and started MS Care Center, both in Morton. He’s delivered more than 4,500 babies in the area, made countless house calls, and served as team doctor for the local high school sports teams, among many other things, and never insisted on payment—although he would occasionally be paid in chickens and even moonshine. He is the unofficial face of health care in the area, but he humbly refers to it as answering God’s call for his life.
Clark grew up in Perry County and graduated from Richton High School on a Thursday evening in 1944. Feeling a duty to serve his country, he enlisted in the Army Reserves the following Monday. “They were going to make me a sniper, but the average lifespan of a sniper in battle is 10 minutes,” said Clark. He immediately signed up to be a medic. His 18 days of medical training kicked off his medical career.
After being honorably discharged, Clark attended Mississippi State University to earn his undergraduate degree. On one particularly challenging day, Clark prayed outside of his class building. “I said, God, I’m overloaded. I need your help. If you’ll give me the ability to get the knowledge to do this, then I’ll give you my career.” He said he made all A’s after that.
During his time at UMMC, Clark said he worked with Medical Center icons, Dr. Arthur Guyton and Dr. James Hardy. “I had excellent training the whole way."
Clark was a hard-working intern and said that professors wanted him to stay and focus on surgery. “I knew country people needed my help more than city people did,” he said.
“When I came to Morton, I heard God’s voice. ‘This is where I want you.’ His message never changed,” said Clark.
Clark saw 35 patients on the day he opened his clinic and worked until every patient had been seen on any given day after that.
“I’ve seen it for years,” said granddaughter Natalie Hannah of Morton, who used to work as a nurse in his clinic. “He’s never had office hours; it was just his life. He answered the phone 24/7/365 and never took a vacation. He just sleeps until he wakes up and then starts working.”
If he happened to wake up at 2 a.m., he would head to the hospital and start rounds. He then bounced between the clinic, the nursing home, and sometimes back to the hospital.
Dr. Shannon Pittman, professor of family medicine, experienced this non-stop work ethic when she did a rotation with Clark as a fourth-year medical student and then again as a resident.
“What stuck out most was the reality of small town medicine. Clark was always on duty. In the clinic, at the grocery store, at the football game, in the parking lot, always. We would see patients for a little while, run to the nursing home and take care of a few things, go back to clinic. Then run to the hospice facility, skip over the emergency department, go back to clinic, pause for lunch, run over to the pharmacy, go back to clinic and then head to the football game to be the doctor on call,” she said.
Appropriately so, he was named Country Doctor of the Year by Staff Care in 2001, when he was still actively providing care for patients at the hospital, clinic, nursing home and making house calls at the age of 73.
“He represents a continuum of care, service, love and dedication for this facility and the community,” said Garry Pace, co-owner of operations for MS Care Center, and six other similar facilities in Mississippi. “There was a time in the 90s when he was the only physician in Morton. Dedication like that—you just don’t find anymore.”
In the last few years, age has slowed Clark some but not in spirit. Though he no longer officially practices and Rush Health Systems bought and runs Clark Clinic, he has an office at MS Care Center where he goes several days a week, thanks to Pace.
When he’s there, everyone calls out to him, from nurses and staff to the residents.
“He built this facility. His heart is in it, and he has a passion for it. These residents have given his life back. He’s here as a volunteer,” said Betty McCurdy, MS Care Center administrator.
“They have depended on him for care for years but had limited time with him because he was very busy. They have time with him today like never before,” she added.
McCurdy said they had to help protect Clark’s time when he was practicing because he wouldn’t say no to anyone.
That’s one of the many lessons that Pittman took from her time with him. “Dr. Clark listened to every patient. He knew all of them and all of their stories. He was connected to seemingly every patient that we saw,” she said. “He wasn’t in a hurry, ever, and the patients just waited until it was their turn to see him. I learned that compassion doesn’t cost a penny. You should give it away in abundant measure.”
Clearly admired by many, Clark sums a lifetime of service up humbly. “My practice of medicine is a God given time of my life that I’ve enjoyed. It’s been a pleasure to continue serving my God. That’s not work. I couldn’t retire…His message never changed.”
*Clark adamantly says he “reluctantly agreed to a retirement party.” He does not say he is actually retired, but for all intents and purposes, he is.