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DARRELL HUCKABY: There's a lot to celebrate in February

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

February is being ushered in today and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Pitchers and catchers report in about nine days and all that spring brings — the crack of Northern White Ash on horsehide, the Final Four, the Masters over in Augusta and warm weather (although Old Man Winter has been kind so far) — can’t be far behind.

When I was in grammar school, we were always taught that February was "the birthday month," because of all the famous people born in February. The most notable, of course, were the two great presidents, Washington and Lincoln, and I bet you remember having a bulletin board in your classroom with the silhouettes of those two great Americans, perhaps superimposed over red hearts to signify Valentine's Day.

There are a few other notable birthdays this month. In the entertainment world we have Clark Gable, Farrah Fawcett, and Dakota Fanning -- although the latter two hadn't been born when I was in grade school. Johnny Cash had a February birthday, too -- but when I was in second or third grade, he wasn't anybody you would have talked about in school.

In the sports world, both Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron were born in the shortest month of the year. We studied Babe Ruth in school. Aaron was still a few hundred homers away from immortality.

Rosa Parks was born in February, which is good a reason as any for the month's current designation as Black History Month, but we hadn't got around to studying the Montgomery bus boycott when I was a student at Porterdale School -- not even in Mrs. Betty Robertson's class.

And speaking of political giants, which is how we got started, Ronald Reagan had a February birthday, too. But he was just the host of Death Valley Days back when we were studying all the notable figures who shared his birth month.

Now I told you all of that to tell you this -- since we are talking about notables and their birthdays. Today is the birthday of Dr. Leila Denmark, who was my pediatrician until my mama got mad because she scolded her for smoking cigarettes in my presence. Dr. Denmark attended Bessie Tift College in Forsyth with the notion that she would be a school teacher -- which was one of the few professions open to women back in her day. Somewhere along the line she changed her mind, however, and decided that she would open a few doors of her own. She decided to attend medical school and was the only female in her class at the Medical College of Georgia.

Dr. Denmark had a very successful career as a doctor, too. She completed her residency at Grady Hospital and was the first doctor on staff of Henrietta Egleston Children's Hospital at Emory University. During the early days of her career, she is credited with helping develop a whooping cough vaccine, for which I am eternally grateful because neither I nor any of my children have ever had the whooping cough.

When I was going to see Dr. Denmark, back in the 1950s and '60s -- yes, that's a long time ago -- her office was adjacent to her home. If it was pretty enough outside, I got to wait on her little playground instead of having to be cooped up in a waiting room with a lot of musty old magazines. And almost every day was pretty enough to be outside, as far as Dr. Denmark was concerned.

I once read a quote from her daughter, Mary Hutcherson, of Athens, that Leila Denmark had two rules she tried to live by. "Love what you do and eat right." Dr. Denmark must have loved medicine, because she practiced until she was 103 and was, not surprisingly, the oldest practicing physician in the world when she retired. She undoubtedly has taken her own advice concerning nutrition, too. She has virtually abstained from sweets for most of the last eight decades and has always advised drinking only water and eating fresh fruits instead of drinking fruit juices -- especially children.

If more parents followed Dr. Denmark's advice today, we would not have an obesity epidemic in this nation, I can assure you of that.

Now in case you have been counting on your fingers and wondering about some of the numbers I've been throwing out I'll let you in on, as Paul Harvey used to say, "the rest of the story." Leila Alice Daughtry Denmark was born on Feb. 1, 1898, in Portal, Ga.

That is not a misprint or typo. Dr. Denmark celebrates her 114th birthday today. She was born three months before the Spanish-American war and is believed to be the fourth oldest person in the world. And yes, you may remember me writing about her on a previous birthday and I hope to be able to write about her on her next birthday, too.

We all should hope to live such a long and meaningful life. Happy Birthday, Dr. Denmark. Seventy-five more years and I will have caught up with where you are today!

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.