Doc Loves County For Its People: 55-Years Of Football Doctoring Hopefully Won't End
Writing about Bobby England is like trying to take a sip of water out of a fire hose. There is just so much to tell.
The distinguished, folksy, down home, family doctor is living in retirement after fulfilling a lifelong dream of coming back to Rutherford County and serving his friends and neighbors.
And he found those dreams on the woodpile in Spindale.
"A lot of people don't know what a woodpile is, but back in the 1930's on the mill hill, most of the women cooked on wood stoves, so it was our job to keep the wood split so our mamas could cook. I spent a lot of time working the woodpile with my father. He couldn't read or write but understood people, respected people, cared for people and did things for them. He taught me about that," England remembered.
A lifetime of service probably hit a low, but dramatic, point when a man with a history of violence killed three law enforcement officers -Owen Messersmith, Roy Huskey, and Pete Peterson, in Rutherford County on May 31, 1979, a sad anniversary that just passed last Sunday. Dr. England was the first medical professional on the scene near where Peterson had been killed by gunfire.
NC Highway Patrol veteran Wayne Spears credits Peterson with saving his life. As Peterson faced a hail of gunfire, he radioed Spears, He said, '234, don't come up the road.' That was me, 234. He knew I would be driving into an ambush. He was trying to save my life and he did."
England was nearby and recalled, "I was there without a gun and without a bulletproof vest." He found safety soon and a 13-hour manhunt followed that resulted in the arrest of the killer.
But his lifetime of service as a family doc, a school board member, and representative in the N.C. House of Representatives is better summed up in his 55 years of walking the sidelines at East Rutherford High School football games as the team doctor. He still does it.
"In the earliest years I missed a few games, but in the last 50 years, I have missed five, home and away," England said.
Having just turned 88, he says that he hopes both his football career and his life are not ended by Covid19.
"A lady asked me the other day why I was wearing a mask, and I told her having just turned 88, I didn't want a virus to end my life," he said.
Like so many East fans, he has vivid memories of Louis Jolley, one of a tiny handful of local athletes to go on and play pro ball. But he also likes to remember the one-time player and coach, David Smith.
"I remember I injected his ankle; and I'm pretty sure he scored two touchdowns that night," England said with a grin.
He said his time as the team doctor has been a lot more about getting to know the players and their families than it has been about wrapping ankles and knees.
What does he like about Rutherford County, about serving both in elected office and as a family doctor?
"People. I love getting to know people and working to help people," he said.
Have there been miracles?
Yes many, but maybe most dramatic was the separating of the conjoined Beaver twins in 1981. England had cared for their mother prenatally; and had noticed their heads were in an unusual position. He joked to one of the x-ray techs at Rutherford Hospital that he wanted to see a picture of his conjoined twins. It turned out they were.
The surgery to separate them was performed in Asheville and England cared for them until his retirement in 2009.
"They came to my little get together and cried when I retired," he said. The miracle was not only that they survived the surgery, but that they had very few medical problems throughout their lives. They attended public schools and were well treated by their classmates, according to the former school board chairman. He is proud any time local schools succeed.
He mentioned legendary principal, O.W. Morris, who steered East Rutherford through desegregation in 1969. "He was an educator who didn't need books to teach." England also had high praise for Morris's successor and championship basketball coach, Connie Mac Hamrick. Both principals were top drawer in England's book.
And what about those eight years in the N.C. House of Representatives?
"I feel like I was able to do a lot for the county, but I got tired of the stupidity of politics," England said. "It's too much about my ego; and what can my ego get out of tomorrow when I get ready to run for re-election. It's sad."
He told a story about the Speaker calling him into his office and saying, "I guess I need to move your seat closer to the center of the aisle." England said he knew the Speaker did not mean it as a compliment, "but I took it as a compliment. I told him I came down here to serve the people in my district, not to prove my loyalty to some caucus."
He said party loyalty is damaging the process today.
He spoke warmly of his mother, Birdie Dalton England, from Bill's Creek. Doc is one of eight children, all of whom heard how much their mother believed in education.
"There was no high school up there at the time, but she got a certificate for finishing seventh grade. She liked it so much, she went back the next year and went through again. Got two of them. She got two certificates," he said.
England lives with his wife Carolyn, whom he met after seeing her twirl a baton in the R.S. Central band at a Cool Springs football game. They were married October 18, 1956 and will celebrate their 64th anniversary this fall. They live near their three children, Kelly, Kara, and Kale in metro Ellenboro.
"Our marriage has been quite wonderful and marvelous. People say to me, 'Gosh, Doc, that's a long time,' and I just smile and say, 'Yes, it sure is.'"
He also spoke warmly of Dr. Jack Hunt, who also served Rutherford County in the N.C. House and passed last week just shy of his 98th birthday.
Both England and Hunt could be seen for years at the Basil Whitener Christmas breakfast in Forest City.
He is a graduate of R.S. Central, Wofford College, and the Medical University Of South Carolina. He also had warm words for his former partner, Dr. Joe Godfrey.