Family traditions

Physician Clay Crowder celebrates three generations of medical practice

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By Suzy Smith
Blount Today

Three generations of healing Maryville residents came to an end when Dr. Clay Crowder retired from practicing medicine in early February.

"I wanted to thank him for all the years of medical service they provided to the community," Pam Jarvis Miller said of the Crowder physicians. Crowder is a friend of Miller’s and was the pediatrician for her children from the time they were born
until they reached college age.

Crowder was the fourth physician in the Crowder family. His grandfather, Dr. Clay F. Crowder, was the president of the University of Tennessee’s graduating class of 1899. Upon graduation, Dr. Clay F. Crowder practiced a short time in Coalfield before moving back to Maryville.

"I hear stories all the time about my grandfather," Dr. Clay Crowder said.

He said one story he heard frequently was that people would see his horse and buggy headed back into town at dawn. If a passersby looked in the buggy, they couldn’t see the physician, because he would be lying down, sound asleep after a long night of delivering a baby.

The horse knew the way home.

What was Dr. Clay F. Crowder’s payment for a home visit? Sometimes, the general practitioner’s efforts would be rewarded with a live chicken, a mess of beans or a couple of dollars. Sometimes, families would name their offspring after their physician.

"There are a lot of Clays in Blount County, and you can bet they’re named after old Doc Crowder," said Dr. Clay Crowder, who also bears his grandfather’s name.

When Dr. Clay F. Crowder’s son, William, became a general practitioner in Maryville, it got confusing with another Crowder doctor, so he usually went by the name of Dr. Bill or Dr. William.

"I heard all of my life about how highly respected my grandfather and father were throughout their practice," Dr. Clay Crowder said. He said his father was the only cardiologist in the city for years. He practiced medicine for almost 50 years before he died from complications of surgery.

Dr. Crowder said he accompanied his father on house calls. While he didn’t have direct interaction with his father’s patients, being exposed to the medical profession played a formative role in his life and in the life of his brother, Bill. Both followed in their father’s footsteps by entering the medical profession.

"That’s what we were going to do, go into medicine," Dr. Clay Crowder said. "No doubt about it."

Both Clay and Bill graduated from UT Medical School. Bill went into practice with his father. In the community, he was referred to as Young Doctor Bill. He retired eight years ago and resides in Tellico Village.

Before Clay Crowder went into a residency program, he went into the Air Force and accepted an opening in pediatrics. After his residency, he started a solo pediatric practice in 1968. Later in his career, he joined a pediatric group. During the last nine years of his career, he practiced at Blount Memorial Hospital’s Good Samaritan Clinic for the underserved and uninsured.

"The Good Samaritan Clinic is one of the greatest things that’s happened to this area," Dr. Clay Crowder said. "They’ve been instrumental in healthcare for those who need it most, but can’t afford it."

Throughout Dr. Clay Crowder’s career, he has seen many patients who bring back memories.

"He was a gifted diagnostician," said Penny Piper, a mother of two children who were patients of Dr. Clay Crowder.

When Piper’s daughter, Amy, was born 30 years ago and was in the hospital nursery, Dr. Clay Crowder diagnosed her with a congenital hip dislocation. According to Piper, at that time it was unusual for a physician to recognize the problem. Braces corrected the dislocation which could have caused difficulties for Amy if it went unrecognized.

It was in September of 1987 when Dr. Crowder diagnosed a rare disorder that could have taken Amy’s life. One morning, Amy awoke unable to walk. Upon Dr. Crowder’s examination of the child, he diagnosed her with Guillain Barre Syndrome, a progressive neuromuscular disease where the body’s immune system attacks the outer layer of the muscles. Muscle weakness, numbness and tingling were her symptoms. If went untreated, paralysis was inevitable.

"He was wonderful and attentive," Penny Piper said. She said he flew with Amy in a medical transport plane so she could be treated at the pediatric intensive care unit at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"Because Dr. Crowder made such a quick and accurate diagnosis, everyone who treated Amy at UNC Chapel Hill could work to confirm his initial finding rather than begin their research. This saved time and pain for Amy."

Penny Piper, who is the Social Studies department chair at Maryville High School, said he also took good care of the parents of his patients. He carved Amy two wooden canes which she used during her rehabilitation process. Her daughter has recovered and now lives in New York City.

Woodcarving and woodturning have been hobbies of Dr. Clay Crowder since his teenage years when his father bought him a multi-purpose power tool. He still has a wooden bowl he made in a high school class. In fact, when you look around his house, you see his handiwork in wooden pieces ranging from tables to bowls and vases.

Dr. Clay Crowder said he and Barbara, his wife of 27 years, do not have immediate retirement plans. He said he will spend more time in his workshop and hiking through the trails of the Smoky Mountains.

"A lot of people who don’t have money need medical care, just like everyone else," Dr. Clay Crowder said. "That’s what my grandfather did, that’s what my father did and that’s what I tried to do." Dr. Clay Crowder said.

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