DR. WALTER R. McCOY REMEMBERED AT CHRISTMASTIME
by Jack R. Mays, Charlton County, Ga. Historian
“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves”…Barry
It was February 1954, and Charlton County was caught up in a spirit of merry-making. It was the county’s 100th birthday. Dr. Walter R. McCoy, was enjoying the events that day, perhaps more than anyone else. He had a leading role in the county’s decision to go all out with the week-long celebration and now was obviously in complete ecstacy, enjoying the fruits of his labor.
His big Irish eyes twinkling as never before, he swaggered down the town’s main street at the head of the noisy parade, flanked on either side by two other celebrants. He was chairman of the event’s Centennial Queen Committee and a member of its board of directors.
But the Christmas Season was Dr. McCoy’s favorite time of year. It was the time he enjoyed most. A time of giving and of sharing with those less fortunate.
His Pontiac was pulled close by the front steps of a small sawmill cottage off the St. George highway, south of Folkston. Sitting there on the steps of the home was Dr. McCoy, smiling broadly, in the grasp of a half-dozen poorly-clad youngsters, their faces aglow as they examined the gaily wrapped Christmas gifts the doctor had brought. On each package was a card bearing one of their names. The scene would be repeated at other homes many times before the Christmas season was over.
This was Dr. McCoy doing his thing. Each Christmas season, beginning on Thanksgiving Day, the big-hearted physician would start organizing himself for the annual event. He would go to the county Welfare Department and to trusted friends to obtain names and addresses of needy families of the community. He wanted their first names also, and the size of the clothes they wore.
Armed with the paper containing the names, addresses and sizes, he would get friends to go with him into the stores to buy Christmas gifts for the families on his list. He bought food and clothing for the family and toys for the children and had the gifts wrapped in brightly colored paper and packed into huge boxes. Then, beginning several days before Christmas Day, he started personally delivering the gifts, finishing on Christmas Eve night.
If Folkston and Charlton County ever had a philanthropist it was Dr. Walter Reynolds McCoy. Without a doubt his greatest satisfaction came from giving to others. He had difficulty understanding why others didn’t feel the same way.
A native of Alabama, Dr. McCoy got his medical degree from Emory University in Atlanta and went on to serve heroically in the U.S. Medical Corp. in World War One.
It was following his discharge as a Captain in the Medical Corp in 1920 that Dr. McCoy first became infatuated with Georgia Baptist Hospital in Atlanta. He interned there until 1922 before entering private practice in Atlanta for three years. In that Atlanta hospital Dr. McCoy died of a heart attack 35 years later in 1957.
Folkston got its first glimpse of Dr. McCoy in 1927. That was the year the Arnold Hotel was destroyed by fire for the first time; Henry Gibson and Jewell Barker, a teacher at Sardis School, were married on February 21, at Hoboken and Dr. W.D. Thompson began operating the Folkston Pharmacy drug store in partnership with Jack Davis. Later that year Thompson would buy Davis’ interest.
McCoy’s Folkston practice opened, giving the town three doctors. Dr. A.D. Williams, who had been in Folkston since 1908, and Dr. Albert Fleming since 1921 were already practicing medicine in the town. The little town was experiencing one of the most prosperous periods of its history. A new bank building, Masonic Lodge Hall and high school building would be occupied in 1927. In 1929 McCoy bought the “Stickler Place” on the corner of Main and Magnolia Streets as his home, from Mrs. M.J. Paxton for $1500.
But as McCoy confessed later, at first he was awfully “gypsy minded”. He moved from Folkston to other Georgia towns and returned several times before finally settling in Folkston permanently, associating at first with Dr. James Sawyer in the Sawyer-McCoy Hospital. World War Two came along, and Sawyer entered the military and never returned to Folkston. Dr. McCoy was left alone to run the practice and the hospital.
After 1927, the people of Folkston and Charlton County, and the McCoy family grew close together; McCoy’s wife Maye Moore McCoy, a daughter of Dr. Moore of Nahunta, two daughters, Ann and Betty Jo and three sons, John D., Bill and Robert. The family became devoted members of the First Baptist Church of Folkston, and among the most liberal financial supporters. Dr. McCoy’s love of the First Baptist Church grew and grew until his death.
In 1946 while delivering a baby at his hospital, Dr. McCoy suffered the first of three heart attacks. The difficult obstetrical delivery took everything out of the 60 year old doctor. Severe chest pains struck him in the delivery room. An associate had to finish the delivery and McCoy was put to bed in one of his hospital rooms.
He recovered well from that heart attack, but realized he could not continue the medical practice in Folkston alone. The following year he was joined in practice by Dr. Joseph M. Jackson who had been with the Atlantic Coast Line Hospital in Waycross after service with the U.S. Navy in World War Two. The two worked together well and their practice flourished.
Doctors McCoy and Jackson’s medical practice grew as did the services at their 25 bed McCoy-Jackson Hospital, a private hospital, but used by the surrounding area. Few medical practices in the state could compare.
In 1948 the political bug bit Dr. McCoy. He wanted to go to the state senate, but would have to challenge a popular political leader from the south end of the county: Ralph Knabb. McCoy accepted the challenge and upset Knabb by 21 votes in one of the county’s most heated political campaigns.
At that time several counties rotated the state senate seat among themselves. Camden, Glynn and Charlton would each take a two-year term.
McCoy was generous to a fault. If there was anything in the world he despised, it was a miser and he wasn’t afraid to let the world know how he felt about it. Once, a particularly affluent miser died. At the morning coffee table someone asked Dr. McCoy what the just-deceased had left. McCoy gritted his teeth, wagged his finger and bellowed “He left it all!”
Again, while sitting in his favorite church pew, McCoy, a tither, noticed the offering plate approaching and a well-heeled businessman sitting next to him, about to place a dollar bill in the collection plate. McCoy wagged his right forefinger at the man, gritted his teeth and in a whisper that could be heard throughout the auditorium, admonished, “You’re just tipping the Lord! You’re not giving! That’s what you’re doing – tipping the Lord!” Undaunted, the businessman dropped a dollar bill into the plate and turned his face away from Dr. McCoy.
On June 30, 1957, after 35 years of medicine, Dr. McCoy sold out his practice and hospital interest to his partner, Dr. Jackson, and retired, vowing to catch up on some long-delayed fishing trips. His retirement was short-lived. He died just 60 days later.
On Wednesday, August 28, 1957 he had driven to Atlanta with Sheriff J.O. Sikes and County Judge Cecil Conner on a political mission. Sikes and Conner left Atlanta on Friday morning to return to Folkston but McCoy, with unfinished business in Atlanta chose to remain until the following day.
That Friday afternoon, August 30, 1957, two months to the day from his retirement, Dr. McCoy was walking alone on Peachtree Street in Atlanta near the Henry Grady Hotel. Sharp chest pains doubled him up. He hailed a taxi cab and asked to be taken to Georgia Baptist Hospital. The driver rushed him to the hospital’s Emergency Room.
Doctors there worked over McCoy while hospital employees phoned McCoy’s family in Folkston and advised them to hurry to Atlanta. Dr. McCoy’s condition was critical. The following day, Saturday afternoon, Dr. McCoy died in his beloved Georgia Baptist Hospital with members of his family at his side. He was 71 years old.
Friends and loved ones overflowed the Folkston Baptist Church at the funeral, and floral offerings were banked high onto the walls of the church. A man that had meant so much to so many - a great man - had passed away and hundreds wanted to pay their last respects. Tales of Dr. McCoy’s generosity and of his political prowess would become legend.
His widow, Maye Moore McCoy lived until December 3, 1961. They are buried in Folkston’s Pineview Cemetery. Alongside is the grave of their eldest son, John D. McCoy who died on May 20, 1975.
Those whose lives this doctor touched while in Folkston and Charlton County and those he helped, from 1927 until his death thirty years later, hold fond memories of the lovable Irishman with a heart as big as all outdoors.
At Christmastime Dr. McCoy is specially missed. Children to whom he took toys and clothes and food are now middle-age. Many will still recall a smiling Dr. McCoy, loaded down with packages, finding his way into their humble homes decades later.
No one has come along since, to fill his shoes.