Dr. Melvin Parsons was 91 years old.
He was the first full-time physician to serve the people of Glovertown, Traytown, Cull’s Harbour, Charlottetown, Port Blandford, Terra Nova and St. Brendan’s.
Early in his practice he also served Eastport, Salvage and Gambo – no small feat in a time when roads were barely passable, his son Dr. Gerard Parsons said in a eulogy delivered at his father’s funeral service on Feb 17.
Gerard is a family physician practicing in the Yukon.
The elder Dr. Parsons was born June 14, 1924 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
His mother Mary Pomeroy was from Catalina. His father Frances Parsons was from the Freshwater, Carbonear area.
They moved to the New England coast during the booming 1920s. However, with the onset of the depression, they moved their family back to Newfoundland. Frances dismantled his house and sawmill that he had in Glovertown and moved it, along with his fishing traps, to Catalina.
In his eulogy, Gerald noted that his father attended a two-room Methodist school in Catalina until Grade six. After completing high school he served in the US Air Force for three years. He worked in Boston for a short time before enrolling in Memorial University College. He completed his science degree at Dalhousie University in Halifax in 1950 and began studying medicine at Dalhousie, graduating in 1955.
While attending Dalhousie, Melvin met Betty Corkum. The two married in 1952, and in 1954 their daughter Melanie was born.
“Dad was keen to move back to Newfoundland and so he took the first opportunity he could and the small family moved to Stephenville Crossing where the second child, Leon was born,” Gerard said.
Melvin moved his family to Glovertown in 1956 and began practicing medicine. In addition to being a doctor, he was an environmentalist, avid bird watcher and passionate sailor, his son said, and he worked to modify and improve the charts of the local waters.
“Sailing became his escape. It was really the only time that he could be fairly certain that he might not be called to duty.”
The couple’s son, Leon, died in 1975 at age 19. Ten years later, Melvin’s wife died.
Melvin married Eva Parsons in 1992.
“They had a wonderful and adventurous life ever since,” Gerard said.
Melvin served on the local school board for many years and was instrumental during the years of integration of the schools.
He also had a lifelong personal commitment to healthy living and, Gerard said, often told his patients that the answer to their medical woes lay not in a pill but in diet and exercise.
“He loved to talk to people who had a skill or talent to offer. He’d glue himself to them to listen to what they had to say probably with the intent of learning something from them,” Gerard said.
Dr. John Lewis, a retired family physician and Memorial University professor who is well known for his contributions to the medical school, said before going into practice, young doctors need something more than their medical degree.
They need a medical license which requires, for community family practice, a two-year program of on-the-job training with an experienced practicing physician as teacher.
For this teaching responsibility, Lewis said, one of the very first rural doctors spotted by the medical school was “a certain recreational sailor, salmon fisherman and cross-country skier named Mel Persons.”
“And it so happens today that many family practitioners, not only in Newfoundland but scattered across Canada, have good memories of a notable solo teacher of medicine, minor surgery, obstetrics and dentistry, not only ashore at Govertown but also offshore (by open boat passage) to St. Brendan’s Island,” Lewis said.
Kevin Blackmore of Glovertown met Melvin in 1983 when Blackmore became involved in the Christmas Bird Count project for the Terra Nova National Park.
“He was an avid reader and insisted on precision in identifying species of birds and of course everything else which occurred on the trails and in the woods, in the waters or sky. He was a naturalist. He got a crowd of us together to form an amateur bird watching club. It went on for some years and our association with the park was inevitable,” Blackmore said via e-mail.
A spellbinding storyteller, Melvin often told stories about his early years practicing medicine, Blackmore said.
“Any story became a reflection of a place and time, like opening a history book.”
Melvin also talked about brewing blueberry wine with strict Wesleyan parents, Blackmore said, and about catching the first tuna in Bonavista Bay.
“There was the rowing scull in which he could do 10 knots, the vermin-culture in his basement, the sailing boat in which he sailed for pleasure, the speed boat in which he made weekly runs to St. Brendan’s. There was always the skills he's built as a craftsman, a wine brewer, a gardener, a keyboard player, his insistence on physical activity, his running and exercise regimens and his interest in libraries.”
Above all else, Blackmore said, Melvin was a tremendous doctor.
“In this part of small town Newfoundland he was great, his presence was deeply felt and relied upon, he is and will be missed.”
Blackmore mentioned a generation of prominent doctors and nurses such as Wilfred Grenfell, Harry Paddon, William Anthony Paddon, James Paton, John Olds, and nurse Myra Bennett who served for service alone. Livelihood was a secondary thought, he said.
“Dr. Parsons will be added to that list,” he said.