Tribune-Courier News Editor
BENTON — After a 50-year career in medicine and public health, Dr. H.W. Ford announced his retirement on Dec. 31.
Marshall Judge-Executive Mike Miller said Ford would be leaving his position as medical director of the Marshall County Health Department on that date. Miller praised Ford’s loyalty and service to the community.
“He’s worked with the health department for over 40 years and will be hard to replace,” Miller said.
Lisetta Whitworth, executive director of the health department, described Ford as a great asset to the community and health department, adding he would be greatly missed.
An avid runner, Ford has run in several marathons. A fundraising run was held in his honor on Saturday.
“He is a very quiet and patient man, and is very understanding and knowledgeable doctor,” said B.J. Weathers, the health department’s director of nursing. “I’ll miss just about everything about him. He was available to help with just about everything. He’d always be available to answer questions even when he wasn’t scheduled to be here. We’ll miss him a lot.”
Ford said his career began in family practice, working with other physicians. He has also worked in occupational health with his work in public health in the health department. He began working in the department around 1964, became a health department board member around 1970 and became director around 1990.
“Public health has changed dramatically during my career,” Ford said. “When I was a child in Marshall County, all the health department did for the public was provide examinations and give immunizations to children. The doctor and nurse would show up to the school in Calvert City and we would all about faint because we knew we were going to get shots.”
Ford said the role of public health has grown. While childhood immunizations remain an important part of the health department, it now provides inspections of restaurants and grocery stores. The staff has grown from about six to nearly 40 during his career. Education has also become a major facet of the health department.
“The main campaign now is the fight against obesity and diabetes,” Ford said. “We’re working hard to educate people that obesity can lead to heart disease, diabetes, vascular disease, kidney problems, stroke and other problems. When I first started we were not equipped for a campaign, but it wasn’t such a problem. Fewer people were obese because they worked in fields.”
Women’s health has also become a focus of public health during Ford’s career. He said the health department now offers nurse practitioners specializing in examinations and treatment for women’s health and family planning.
“Thirty years ago, there would have been an outcry about offering condoms and birth control, but I think it may have cut down on the number of unwanted pregnancies,” Ford said.
Ford said the greatest triumph in public health can be traced back to it’s early role, immunizing children.
“The best example of success is polio. It was a terrible, debilitating disease,” Ford said. “Thanks to the Saulk vaccine, we’ve wiped out polio. We vaccinate for measles, whooping cough, mumps and don’t see those diseases like we used to.”
When he first started practicing in Benton, Ford said the community was in the grips of a measles epidemic. He credited vaccination programs for eliminating similar epidemics and the death of children to pediatric diseases.
At the twilight of his career, Ford said he will miss the interaction with his patients the most.
“The health department has been a pleasant place to work,” Ford said. “People that come in weren’t as sick as a normal practice. The staff, nurses and administrators have all been great.”