Dr. Mary Blair: Back where she began Pediatrician has family ties to area

Story by David Monroe Greenwood Commonwealth: Health and Fitness, p.11

If you ask Dr. Mary Blair why she decided to become a pediatrician, she has a simple answer. “I’ve always just seen myself as a big kid, so working with the children has always just been a big joy to me,” she says.Plus, she adds jokingly, “I never was interested in adults.”
And now she works for the hospital where she was born —Greenwood Leflore Hospital.
Blair, 33, joined the hospital’s children’s clinic in  early August. Dr. Melynda Noble, who formerly worked at the clinic, now is the hospital’s full-time pediatric hospitalist.
Blair already knew the area well, since her mother, the late Jeanie Jackson Blair, was from Greenwood and other relatives still live in the area. In fact, Blair lives in the house where her mother once resided.

She grew up a “military brat,” so she was accustomed to moving often. Her father, the late Charles Edward Blair, was from Canton and was in his second year of medical school when she was born. Her mother came home for the birth while he was away.

“As soon as he came back, we moved back to Nashville,” she said. “And so I’ve been moving ever since then.” She said the first time she showed an interest in medicine, it was during an argument with her father, who was a family practice physician.
She was only 10 at the time.“He basically said, ‘You can’t do this,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Oh, yes, I can.’ In fact, she told him she wanted to be a psychiatrist, as her aunt was, although he didn’t think highly of that field then.

While the family was living in the mountains of Asheville, N.C., and she was considering colleges,  she decided she wanted to go to a school in a big city far from home. She chose Howard University, where she earned a partial scholarship. There, she worked with children with autism and became more interested in pediatrics and developmental issues.

Once she completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology/pre-med, it took her two years to get into medical school. But after applying twice and taking the Medical College Admission Test four times, she was accepted at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. — her father’s alma mater.
He didn’t make it to her graduation, but he had already told her and others that she would be a success. “He was very proud,” she said.

Roots in Greenwood

Although she never lived in Greenwood, she still had roots in the city. So, when she heard about a scholarship that included a five-year commitment to work in the hospital system, she took it. Her parents had planned to moved to Canton anyway, so it was a chance to bring the family closer.

“I think everything just sort of works out the way God wants it,”?she said, “because I found out about it my second year of medical school, and it was specifically for Greenwood Leflore Hospital. … I definitely jumped on it and was prepped and ready to go when I got here.”
Blair has experience in dealing with children with developmental disorders including autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, spina bifida and Down’s syndrome. She is trained to treat patients ranging from newborns up to the age of 21, but she enjoys dealing with pre-adolescents the most.

So is she good at calming down children who might be scared of doctors?
“Oh, yeah, that’s the best part,” she said with a smile. “That’s the best part — the interaction.”

A world traveler

Her work has taken her to many different places, including Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. She also has done medical work in Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

She said her first trip to Honduras, during her fourth year of medical school, was an eye-opener. She had taken plenty of Spanish in school but wanted to hone her medical Spanish skills in an immersive setting. And while working in a hospital there, she saw what pediatrics is like in a poor country.

“The town that I was staying in was rather nice compared to the other towns, but they still had a lot of disparities when it came to health care,” she said.
But she enjoyed the trip and plans to return at some point. In fact, she tries to go to a Spanish-speaking country every so often to keep her language skills fresh.

She said growing up in a military family gave her the skills to adapt to new settings and people, such as the Hispanics and Native Americans she dealt with in Arizona.
“You learn different cultural practices and different things that people believe in. … Just being a military brat, you just learn to be a chameleon and blend in where you need to and just be flexible,” she said.

Blair also has a background in research. In fact, she presented a paper at a pediatrics conference based on spina bifida research she had done through the University of Arizona. She was active in Arizona LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) and hopes to do more research once she is more settled in Greenwood.

An avid runner, she said she definitely plans to participate in the 5K in the 300 Oaks Road Race. She also has joined Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Money and plans to look for more opportunities to volunteer. “I’m still trying to figure out what the community needs,” she said.

Contact David Monroe at 581-7236 or dmonroe@gwcommonwealth.com.