Hey to mark 50 years in medicine

By BOB DARDEN Staff Writer

Dr. John Hey will celebrate a personal milestone Tuesday — practicing medicine for 50 years, including 47 in Greenwood.

“Going through my mind, I thought, Man, I’ve had a fabulous life,” said Hey, 74, who serves as medical director of the Greenwood Leflore Hospital Sleep Disorder Center.

Noting that World War II aviator Jimmy Doolittle’s autobiography is titled “I Could Never Be So Lucky Again,” Hey said, “If I wrote one, it would be ‘I’ve Never Been So Blessed.’”

A native of Greenwood, Hey attended Davis Elementary School. He learned a lot from his father, John Hey Jr., a cotton farm manager, including management and business skills. He said his father was a personable man who “could have run for office.”

Hey attended West Tallahatchie High School, graduating in 1957.

“I was valedictorian and all that, but my first love was agriculture. I took all the ag courses they had. I wanted to farm,” he said.

But one day, his father and his mother, the former Margaret Virginia Lay, reminded him of an important fact. “They said, ‘This farming is great, but have you ever thought, we don’t have a farm?’” Hey recalled with a laugh.

That prompted him to look elsewhere for a career. He had been a drum major and loved both music and the sciences. His parents  said music wasn’t a good career choice, but  they did encourage his love of science, he said.

Hey’s academic career began at Mississippi College, where he said he was “a country boy come to town.” While at the Clinton school, he met his future wife, Nora Lyons of Carrollton, who was majoring in linguistics.

Hey majored in chemistry and minored in Bible, speech, biology and pre-med. “I wanted to learn, learn everything,” he said.

He said he loved chemistry and was a natural at it. His schooling at Mississippi College, which he completed in three years, turned out to be a good primer for medical school.

Although he was offered a teaching position, he didn’t like the idea of working in academia and dealing with funding issues and institutional backbiting. So he took the MCAT and did well on it.

He applied to the University Medical Center in Jackson and  was accepted. He said he knew it would be “four years of hell” but resolved to stick it out.

He graduated in 1964, and  after getting his medical license, he interned at Mississippi Baptist Hospital as a general practitioner.

“I wanted to stay in Mississippi and do some of everything,” he said.

In 1965, Uncle Sam came calling, and Hey was made a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. After serving a year at Fort Stewart specializing in obstetrics/gynecology and geriatrics, he was placed in command of a 12-bed Strategic Army Corps medical unit.

“With 24 hours’ notice, we could be somewhere, set up to receive patients,” he said.

He liked the efficiency of military medicine and also “fell in love with the Army corpsmen,” whom he compared to nurse practitioners.

Next stop was South Vietnam, right in the middle of a massive build-up. The U.S. involvement grow from 150,000 to 550,000 by the time of his rotation out after one year in country.

He said he was  offered a career in the Army but felt the cost would have too great for his family.
“I had a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. It would just like to kill me to be gone,” he said. “I’d miss my wife, too.”

He and his wife ultimately had four children, John Pittman, David, Sarah and Daniel, who is a physician practicing in North Carolina.

Once back in Jackson in 1967, Hey weighed his options about where to practice medicine.
“Greenwood had 22 doctors. Everybody did everything. If you were a surgeon, you delivered babies,” he said.
In addition, the staff got along with each other well.

“Everybody covered for everybody,” he said. “I could pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to go to  Jackson for three days,’ and they’d say, ‘OK, I’ll tend to it.’”

For a time, Hey served as chief endoscopist at the hospital. Later, he served as the director of the hospital’s Geriatric Assessment Center after receiving his board certification in geriatrics.

In 1996, he became the medical director of the hospital’s  Sleep Disorder Center.

In addition to the center, Hey has a private medical practice. He also serves as medical director of Golden Age Nursing Home and  is one of the few physicians providing flight physicals for pilots.

Hey said his work has been rewarding. Asked if he planned to retire, he replied, “When they take the keys away from me.”
“I keep telling folks. Why should I retire? I’m having too much fun,” he said.
Working in medicine for five decades leaves a lot of memories, he said.
“Watching the parade go by —  that’s fun,” he said.

Contact Bob Darden at 581-7239 or bdarden@gwcommonwealth.com.